By Lori Duvall-Jackson
“So, sixty. So what?” was the caption on a friend’s post, as she cannon-balled into a pool. This made me smile for a number of reasons- I have known Min for fifty years and remember us doing the same thing as kids at camp. We both reached our milestone birthday in the same year and month, and my sentiment is the same as hers, though sadly I wouldn’t even dare to look at myself in a swimsuit.
The past year brought not only another decade to the fore, it put an exclamation point on a year that brought enormous change to my life. Most of it had little do with turning sixty (and here I will state unequivocally my mother is spinning in her grave at this public acknowledgement of aging), but proved once again life can be full of surprises no matter how old you become.
The year started off with its biggest shock, which began when I decided to spring for one of those DNA tests that gives an analysis of one’s genetic background. Having been adopted at birth, I knew nothing of my biological background (my parents refused to discuss this, for reasons too complicated to explore further). At an annual physical, I gave the usual “no family medical history” response on a questionnaire but not for the first time this bothered me- getting older brings with it an increased focus on one’s health and my inability to contribute an informed background blurred that picture.
I thought a DNA test might provide some information, so I paid for a swab and sent it off with no expectation of discovering anything truly useful. The results floored me- my “bio” mom was a Native American with a smattering of other genetic markers common to natives, and my “bio” father was genetically traceable to the UK, most likely Scotland.
For the first time I became genuinely curious about my adoption. I contacted the state adoption registry and requested whatever information could be given to me (New York has a closed adoption policy whereby no actual identities are disclosed). When I opened that letter, I had to sit down. It confirmed my mother was native, though a Canadian citizen and therefore “First Nation”. The information on my father had been supplied by her and did not in the least match the DNA history. Most importantly, it mentioned a brother born before me.
Shortly thereafter I received another letter, which said a sibling had also registered and if we both consented our identities could be supplied. After much thought, I agreed and received a final letter with my sibling’s information. It was not the brother I expected, but a younger sister! Her first name was the same as mine and she lived in Rochester. In short order we tracked each other down and met for the first time.
There was a sense of instant connection- we look a great deal alike, and our personal histories contain similarities beyond coincidence. My only regret in opening this box is that I didn’t do it sooner, but I look forward to the future and building on our relationship.
This was the biggest change in my sixtieth year, but there were others- after discussing matters like health insurance and retirement, my longtime partner and I decided it was time to take the plunge and married after twenty plus years together. Most recently, I returned to the African bush for a second volunteer gig that provided two of the most exciting weeks of my life, involving cheetahs, wild dogs, and elephants!
Min was absolutely right. So, sixty. So what?
Lori Duvall-Jackson of Amherst recently turned 60 and doesn't mind.