Aristotle liked order. He liked stories to have a beginning, a middle, and an end, and for the ending to logically follow the events that were sparked at the start.
Aristotle would have loved the movie Lion. In the beginning, we see Saroo get separated from his mother. What, then, would be the logical ending? Well, Saroo should get reconnected with his mother!
Those last few scenes of the real-life Saroo with his real-life birth mother were the balm for the long stretches of time where we watched him not be with her.
The first time I watched Lion, I watched it at home on a screener my writing partner had and I took breaks. The movie is almost unbearable to watch in one sitting. The second time I watched it in a packed theater and I tried not to audibly bawl as the story wore on me, making me feel more and more vulnerable to the grief of the story as a whole.
We see how loving Saroo is, how much he loves his mother, his brother, and we see how much they love him. We see him get lost; we see him suffer. We see his new Australian family bring in another boy from India, Mantosh: a son for them, a brother for Saroo, and we see what happens when a child has reactive attachment disorder. He beats himself over the head; he sobs inconsolably. He is wild with unhappiness. The family honeymoon Saroo had with his new parents came to an abrupt halt with the arrival of Mantosh.
It’s one thing to hope adoption will get you a child you can love and nurture, but when a child is busted from being too abandoned, too neglected, too unconnected, the damage is horrifying. It’s not something love or therapy or a new puppy can easily fix or even soothe. You can do your best with a child who has reactive attachment disorder, but it’s a painful, wild relationship that can leave your house in shambles and your heart in pieces. When parents adopt, the children don't come with informational packages that go into nuts and bolts of what relinquishment and trauma do to the developing brain.
We need to do better for the children. We need to be there for them. How is it that we can manage to have so much stuff, so many cars, so many vacation houses, so much exercise equipment, and yet all over the world there are infants and children rocking themselves to sleep with no hope that there will be someone to look them in the eye the next day and tell them they are loved, never mind feed them? I don’t understand. I don’t understand why abortion isn’t more widely celebrated since we are so unwilling to take full responsibility for each child that comes into this world.
I was three when my parents adopted my brother John, and because no one knew much about fetal alcohol syndrome or a host of other problems that can occur when a birth mother uses drugs, my parents were not prepared for the level of John’s physical and mental pain. My parents did not have the tools to deal with John, and John did not have the tools to deal with life.
Another story you won’t be seeing on the big screen.
If Lion had focused on Saroo’s brother, I’m guessing there would have been no satisfying ending, and no Best Picture Oscar nomination.
And what if Saroo’s girlfriend had told Saroo he had pushed her away too hard and that she would not wait for him when he went to India to look for his birth mother? And what if, when Saroo got to India and actually found her, she had told him that he was lucky to have been adopted and to please never come see her again?
I’m not sure anyone would have paid to watch that movie.
Adoption stories are tricky.
I needed to write You Don’t Look Adopted because I needed to find some sort of container for my adoption story in order to feel real and to better understand my life. It helped, getting it on paper in the messy, broken way I finally told it. In giving myself permission not to chase after a classic story with a linear and logical beginning, middle, and end, I found myself.
It’s not about the ending, I found: it’s about the telling. You just need to be able to tell your story, open your heart and your guts and see what burned and shocked and made holes. Feel these things. Breathe. Love yourself. Love everyone. Think you may die from the pain. And then live.