The lost children
Can you mourn the loss of something you never had? Imagine for a second you were born without a limb. Can you miss it if you never had it to begin with? I’ve been struggling with this question a lot lately, not because I was born without a limb, but because I was born without a family and in some ways that isn’t too different. Maybe it’s wrong to compare a missing limb to a missing family, but I honestly can’t think of a better way to describe it, because family is an extension of you.
Sure family aren’t physically attached to you, but growing up in a family shapes who you are as a person, how you navigate the world, and how you go about the day to day things in life. You don’t become the person you are because of your family, but your family helps shape you nevertheless. Just like the world is designed for a person with two working arms and legs, the world is also designed for a person with a family.
I’ve seen families, been around families, had friends who had great families and some who had no so great. I’m sure we all know at least one or two people who fall into that last category. Growing up my family was… non-traditional. It’s not that they didn’t exist, it’s just that we (I have a younger sibling) weren’t wanted. It’s a very sad story, think lifetime movie.
You know the story, father was ex-army and an abusive drug addict. Mother goes crazy, thinking god is talking to her, then vanishes because she thinks people are out to get her. Meanwhile the kids are told very early on she disappeared when that wasn’t the case until much later. We were bounced around families because no one wanted kids that weren’t theres. That sort of boring story, super unoriginal, I mean that with all seriousness. If it was a book, no one would want to it.
Small wonder I don’t want children of my own, how could I be a parent when I don’t even know what a parent looks like? Besides, I can barely take care of myself these days.
Anyway, it’s not sympathy I’m looking for exactly, it’s just clarity.
I’ve never really had a family of my own, so can I really miss something I never had or am I just jealous of the people who do have family? Is jealous even the right word for that, maybe angry that I lack something so fundamental, or lost because how the hell do you raise yourself in a world where most adults will actively ignore a child that isn’t there own? Spoiler since I already know how that one went, it’s fucking hard.
Life is hard I guess.
If you’re a regular reader, you may wonder why this topic is coming up at this particular time. Or maybe not, sometimes being on the outside gives you more perspective than being on the inside. But the answer is pretty straightforward. Happy memories hit a little differently when you realize you’re the only one in them. Undergrad college orientation, just me. Two graduations, did them solo (so solo I didn’t even go). And now I’ve got a few major milestones coming up and while I’m thankful for all my friends (virtual or otherwise), I don’t get to do that whole family celebration thing I see people doing.
I get that sometimes we’re stuck building our own families and they don’t have to be blood related. Still it would’ve been nice to have someone see me grow up and be the person I am today, for the better and worse. You don’t really get get that when you’ve had the life I had and the people who knew me as a child are people who probably wouldn’t even recognize me now, not that I would want them around anyway.
Family is a complicated thing. Not that I would know firsthand, but I’ve seen families and like any relationship there are ups and downs. You can (and should) leave a horrible family, but I would like to believe that most families aren’t horrible, because frankly that would make the world an even more depressing place than it already is.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the dedication to my dissertation. My master’s thesis was dedicated to my uncle, and to my cats, but that was just me trying to be funny. My dissertation will probably be dedicated to the lost children. The ones who, by simple virtue of birth didn’t get a family when they came into the world. The ones who the system should help, but doesn’t, ask me how I know. Maybe I’ll change my mind when the time comes. But frankly it feels like the right thing to do. It never hurts to remind people in this situation that they aren’t alone.
Hell it’s probably not even that uncommon, which is not fair, but to exist is to survive unfair choices.
Have you heard of sehnsucht? It’s a bit of a slippery concept, but if I understand it correctly, it’s a yearning without a clear object. One wants something – very badly, perhaps – but one doesn’t quite know what one wants. However, I’ve also heard it described as “homesickness for a place you’ve never been,” and that’s why it came to mind in connection with what you wrote here.
I’ve experienced it before. It can be rather painful, but not in the same way that ordinary loss is – it’s more bittersweet. It’s as if there were something beautiful in the corner of my mind’s eye, and if I just got it in focus, maybe I could identify it. But if I try to look straight at it, then it moves. I’m half delighted by the beautiful thing, and half in pain because it isn’t part of my real life, it’s something that I lack. The worst part is there’s no solution to the pain – because how can I make a plan to gain what I’m missing, when I can’t even put a name to it?
If I can have something like that going on, and if it’s common enough to have a name – if people can miss something without even knowing exactly what it is – then I think it’s perfectly legitimate for you to miss something concrete that you never had.
Much of our knowledge and maybe even preferences are learned – we’re shaped by our environment. But I don’t think that accounts for everything; I don’t think we begin as blank slates. We come with some innate wiring, including instincts about what the world should be like, what kind of setting would actually be suited to us and we to it. When the world fails to align with those, we can tell. And then we grieve. It seems perfectly natural to me.
I hope that was useful. All the best, dear friend.
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April 6, 2022 at 10:01 pm
Thank you! I learned a new word today, albeit not an english one! I think that sums it up very nicely and I’m glad you pointed it out. While I had a good suspicion that it wasn’t an uncommon thing, I had no real evidence to support that.
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April 7, 2022 at 5:34 pm
Yeah, it’s kind of wild that we have to use a German loan word for it, isn’t it? As if the idea slipped right by the English-speaking world, and we never paid enough attention to it to give it a name.
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April 7, 2022 at 5:56 pm
Oh no, are we having a sehnsucht moment about sehnsucht?! 😀
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April 8, 2022 at 9:38 am