© 2016 Rudy Owens. All rights reserved.
Perhaps it was the words that she chose. Or, maybe it was the quarter of a century of waiting to hear them from a woman I knew, yet did not at all. Likely it was both. What happened was something I did not expect.
To my astonishment, I found myself in this stranger’s living room, in her modest adobe style house, a mile from Balboa Park. Less than an hour and a half earlier, I had flown into San Diego. I planned the trip on a whim 48 hours before, from my new home in Portland. I had previously found that improbable journeys with little possibility for success had always opened doorways to the unexpected. This was most true when it came to this lifelong quest that brought me to southern California that sunny morning of September 29, 2014.
I sat across from a woman two years younger than me. She had dark, shoulder-length brown hair and a chin and lips that very much resembled my own. “You don’t know how lucky you are,” she said, with a sigh of resignation.
The stranger sitting across from me shared half of my DNA. She was both my half-sister and a complete stranger. She looked tired that morning and every one of her 47 years. Dark bags hung under her eyes. She was buxom and mostly healthy.
That early fall day she wore a black tank top and black yoga pants. She was dressed expecting to be home alone. She was not expecting to be in the company of a stranger who was also her half-brother. Yet, there I was, the 49-year-old man now facing her with her Chihuahua on his lap.
Up until that day I only existed in her wider family’s narrative as a liar, bogeyman, criminal, possible blackmailer, and family disruptor. I embodied every fearful stereotype societies have assigned to bastards and illegitimate children for centuries. They told themselves and others I was not related and was an imposter, not of the same blood. None of her family really knew who I was. I always thought that she and her family knew I was the bastard son of her deceased father, which only exacerbated their uncertainty.
In the end, I only existed in her imagination. Years of suspicion and likely fear and anger from the people closest to her created an imaginary threat. Yet, she opened the door to her house when I knocked and told her who I was. She let me walk right in.
By chance that Monday morning, she happened to be home, taking a day off work. She worked as an attorney for a local government. “I’m not surprised to see you,” she said. “It’s as if you were meant to come.” I could not agree more.
Chance and intuition had been among my strongest allies in what had been nearly three decades of discovering my family history and meeting my biological relatives who had been unknown to me until I was 24 years old. Blind faith ultimately gave me the courage to buy a round-trip ticket to Detroit, in April 1989, where I met my biological mother and my cousin, son of her twin brother. No other efforts in my life allowed me to tap into this providential energy like this mystery puzzle I kept solving, incrementally since that time.
Also by serendipity, that morning on my flight down I was reading psychiatrist Viktor Frank’s classic Holocaust memoir Man’s Search for Meaning. It describes his experiences surviving German concentration and death camps. In it, Frankl explains the meaning of misfortune and tragedy.
Through his own harsh experiences as a prisoner, Frankl suggests that the full meaning of awful moments in our life might not be manifest for years, until they suddenly take on clarity when their full context becomes apparent over the long view of time. In Frankl’s view, what may appear to be terrible at one moment can have a completely different meaning later, when the fullness of an experience makes sense to the person. For Frankl, a tragedy may not be tragedy, and misfortune could be fortune in disguise.
Read more: Chapter 2: The Most Suitable Plan