For the past twelve months I’ve been repeatedly telling myself that this big Vietnamese Adoptee reunion of ours is still a whole year away. Wow! How is it that time has flown by so quickly and what was once an intriguing idea for just a few is now an enduring collection of memories for so many?
The reunion has officially ended, most of the adoptees have already left and the collective presence and energy has quickly faded from this place. Or has it? Now, every time I visit the rooftop lounge at the Caravelle Hotel my mind still sees our opening reception in full swing. I can still picture each of us seated or standing around our respective tables, meeting one another for the first time, catching up with old friends, and sharing our life stories together. I don’t just see a mass of people, I can see specific faces and I distinctly remember who was talking to whom. I recall the taste of the wine, the flash of the cameras and how I struggled to quickly register new faces and associate them with the names I’d become familiar with over the months leading up to the reunion. I remember particular smiles, distinct laughter as well as hugs and kisses between friends who had gone without seeing each other for too long. I hear Kim Browne asking me to model the Operation Reunite t-shirts and I can still imagine Tricia helping me to distribute them one by one.
But the Caravelle is not the only place where I feel our reunion. I’m still surrounded by the feeling of friends all over this city and in other parts of the country too. Danang, Hoi An and Nha Trang will hold memories of fun times with other adoptees for me. Since the reunion’s end, Jimmy has returned from Cambodia, Kim has been stranded here due to volcanic ash, Anh Dao is still clicking away with her camera and Ben just returned to Vietnam for the very first time. Brent, Zion, Kevin, Kym and other adoptees I didn’t have a chance to meet this time around continue to live here indefinitely or at least long after the end of this particular reunion.
This is the fifth time I’ve had the opportunity to visit Vietnam and every year I’ve watched the country change on its own. But even if the country’s evolution were to grind to a complete halt tomorrow, this reunion would forever change Vietnam for me, personally. I can’t see the sights of Saigon in the same way. I can no longer look at orphans or pick them up and hold them as I once did. I’m unable to view other adoptees in the same light as before and I may never be able to look at myself in quite the same way either.
Where do we all go from here? After coming together briefly, only to then part from a reunion such as this one, are we meant to once again diverge as we did 35 years ago? Or, are we meant to continue from here on, joined by a sense of unity, bound together not only by our common heritage and war but now, perhaps more importantly, by our shared experience in April 2010?
I wonder what the coming months and years will be like in the wake of such a reunion, for myself and for others. I can’t help but consider the age of 35 to be a crucial turning point in my life. Perhaps I was supposed to have a life affirming experience, one that reminds me just how fragile my life once was and also that I’m not alone, in fact, I’ve never been alone. There’s still so much to discover about who I am and who I want to have in my midst for the years to come. To all of the Vietnamese adoptees and to all of the family and friends who participated in our reunion, thank you for being a part of that experience and for being an indelible part of my life!