On December 11, 1961, in General Rose Memorial Hospital in Denver, Colorado, someone gave birth to me. I do not know who that person was. I was adopted 12 days later by my mother and father in Salt Lake City, Utah. George and Carol Gardner are, to all the world legally, and more importantly, in my mind and heart, my parents. They loved me and raised me and made me the man I am today. I really never think of myself as “adopted”, it was not a stigma or something to be ashamed of, or in my case, even curious about. Many adoptees wonder why their parents gave them up, and who they are, and search for them like it's a quest for the Holy Grail. I really never have. George and Carol – Dad and Mom – they are the ones who are my parents, they are the ones I’m connected to, who’s spirit is infused in me, even though they didn’t biologically create me.
But for some strange reason this morning, unlike any other birthday morning, I got to wondering about my birth mother. On this day 56 years ago she gave birth to me. I’m sure that it’s something she remembers to this day -- especially this day -- if she is still living. On this day, of all days, she surely must remember the physical pain of childbirth, and the mental heartbreak of having to give that child up. It had to take tremendous courage and strength on her part to do so. And perhaps today she wonders what became of me. Maybe she even cries, I don't know.
Back in 2013, the wonderful actress Judi Dench stared in a movie named “Philomena” about a young Irish-Catholic girl who at 15 finds herself pregnant and is sent to a convent to give birth. The nuns then “sell” her baby to be adopted by an American couple. The movie opens with her crying on what was her son’s 50th birthday, and her saying a prayer and lighting a candle for him. The movie then chronicles her search for her son. I won’t spoil it, but if you’ve seen it you’ll know what a wonderful heart wrenching story it is, and if you haven’t, well do yourself a favor and rent/borrow/stream it at your next opportunity.
So somewhere out there is my equivalent of Judi Dench – Philomena. Something I never really thought about until I’d seen the movie, and I can’t help but wonder what she thinks on this day every year. Perhaps its because I’d seen a clip of Ms. Dench last night that this thought popped up while I was walking today. And while I have no strong desire to reconnect or develop a relationship with this unknown lady (and to be fair, the unknown man who had something to do with it too), I would, if given the chance, say how profoundly grateful I am for her courage and strength to give me up to my parents so that I could have the wonderful life I’ve been so fortunate to live these past 56 years, and that I thank her from the bottom of my heart.
I’m not one to deal in “unknowns” and “what ifs”. I don’t waste time and wonder what my life would have been like had she not given me up and raised me herself -- it would have been what it was. But on this day, if she’s wondering if I’ve had a good life, and if I’m happy, the answer to that is emphatically yes! In no small part it’s because she had the courage to give me up for adoption some 56 years ago. For that I’m very grateful. And as Judi Dench as Queen Victoria said, in the clip from Victoria and Abdul that I saw last night “Happy Birthday to me!”