When I was a day old, I was abandoned at a police station in Seoul and taken to an orphanage. I lived with 200 or so other babies. At three months old, I was adopted by an American family. Despite growing up in a loving family, I was always curious about my birth parents. But, without names, photos, or any records at all, I told myself that a search would be futile. It was easier to make up stories about what may have happened than to risk heartbreak.
Scribbled in handwriting in the back of my old file were the names of a man and woman and their two daughters. Were these people my birth family? The social worker asked if I wanted to search for them. Feeling scared and doubtful that anything would ever come of it, I cautiously agreed.
Years later, on January 5, 2011, a cold yet sunny winter morning, I received an email in my inbox, subject: Sister. ”My sister… Our family is delighted, happy, elated since finding out about you few days ago… I had been crying and dreaming of you [the] last few days, wondering how to proceed and interact with you. Hopefully I have made a right choice in writing to you now…”
Six months later, I was on a plane headed to Seoul, where I’d meet my biological Korean family, together with the support of my adoptive parents. After a tearful and emotional reunion, I learned that my birth mother had her own orphan story as well: at 6 years old, she and her brother were orphaned after seeing their parents killed during pre-war conflict. Separated from her brother, she lived in an orphanage and was later adopted and raised by a loving family. Decades later, she reunited with her brother.
Today, I’m overwhelmed with gratitude to have two sets of parents who love and care for me, and for life’s everyday treasures. That gratitude served as a powerful catalyst motivating me to leave my corporate career to co-found an organization dedicated to empowering vulnerable women and children with opportunities to change their own life stories: The Gracias Foundation.
Everyone can find something to be grateful for every day – however big or small. By embracing gratitude as inspiration for giving back (or rather, giving forward), anyone can be an everyday activist, creating a meaningful, purpose-filled life not only for herself but for the lives of others around the world. And that is something to be truly grateful for.