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  • I am a child sitting on a step with six other children. All the children are mixed blood orphans. With them is a tall young woman, an Irish missionary who has gathered these unwanted children and is taking them, via military transport, to Seoul, where there is an orphanage run by an Oregon farmer who wants to place the orphans with American families. We are sitting outside on the concrete steps leading up to a house. It is fall 1956, the house is in Taegu, South Korea, and we are a band of travelers.

    There is a girl in the photograph who is a bit older than me. Her light colored hair marks her as the most American looking in this assortment of Amerasian children. The face of my two year old Korean self looks up from the photo lying on the floor as I, forty-seven and American, shuffle through papers hoping to find the phone number of the woman who was that girl. I am frustrated because I thought I had the number, but all I can find is a name and a city, and information has no listing for that name. Rummaging through the pile I am distracted by reminders of the feeble, intermittent efforts I have made to find the story that connects me back to this picture. Amid these artifacts I feel the losses and welcome the tears of frustration.

    I am an orphan of war, a child unwanted by the country in which I was born. The Korean War is still waiting for an official ending, but the fighting led to a stalemate in 1953. I was born in 1954 and on this Sunday in 2003 I would like to talk to this woman, my traveling companion, to perhaps resume a conversation we might have started while riding in the military convoy that brought us along to Seoul.

    I would like to know whether her life starts and stops like mine. Whether she finds that the present unexpectedly turns her thoughts to the past. I wonder whether her searching is also blocked off by gaps in her story, confused by tales of questionable origin, and lost in unattributed emotions? I wonder how her adoption went, whether it truly stuck or was her adoptive home more of a way station, temporary rest on the journey.

    As I search I think of war and the ways that war creates crippled, tragic sojourners, and how little regard there is in our dialogue of destruction for the children who travel that road. How do we give true weight to the pain and suffering of war that is absorbed, resolved, and redistributed through the lives of children?

    I returned to Korea in 2000 with a group of Korean born, American adoptees. Traveling with this group was very powerful, a revelation of common stories. A Vietnam veteran once told me that he only spoke of the war with other veterans. It was not that they talked a lot, but rather that their common experience could hold a place of silence where what was known was understood. So it was riding the bus in Korea. The inexpressible was held in common and the conversation could go on from there.

    Standing in Seoul on a rainy night, some forty-two years after leaving Korea, the shimmering lights of the cityscape matched the multitude of prior choices – made by others – reverberating in me. Wars are fought for reasons couched in language that intentionally dwarf the lives of common people, but the losses are always personal. At that level of the conflict, when war has devastated a country and babies are part of the wreckage, no one is left better off for the encounter.

    So now it is 2010 and our country is fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan and my son has just completed basic training. The parade ground, dressed by young men clothed in uniforms promising maturity, looks like a killing ground to me. For now, pride and hope master fear and anger and my son's path is still one of growth. But who will be accountable for the endless reverberations of this war? What context, what war craziness is this that makes us all victims? Can we allow the pain of this war to spread through generations, twisting the fortunes of children and poisoning the future of the world? Are we bearers of hope or loss? Will children be sent traveling in our wake?

    [Revised from a piece shared on Facebook November 2010.]
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