Our son Zak’s ‘delivery room’ is the concourse of Terminal C. He arrived into our family on a United Airlines flight from Beijing to the United States in 2003 as a very small 7 year old with little more than the clothes on his back and a name given to him by his birthparents…his name…Bao Shan.
Sometimes I try to imagine who Zak’s birthparents are. Who are these people who have made him into the likeness he is today? What characteristics do they share? I have come to terms with the fact that I will never meet them. They are lost in the rapid construction of 21st century China. It makes me sad. I will, however, always be grateful to them for the gifts they passed on to him as well as the gift to me, in itself, of their son Bao Shan.
Zak Bao Shan was born in Beijing, China some time in the year 1996. His earliest memories in the hutong neighborhood he lived in with his family are of poverty, ‘broken’ clothes, and sickness. He will describe how to catch, cook and eat rat...he will describe the house he lived in with his biological parents...no electricity...no running water. He will describe digging with his grandpa in the snow for grub to eat when there was no other food. Zak has memories of being very sick for a long period of time. His parents did not have the means to make him healthy. Zak will tell you about the day he was abandoned…how he watched his mom ride off on her bike...leaving him on a bench at a busy train station in Beijing with the hopes that someone would find him and heal him in a way she could not...he was five years old.
When Zak was abandoned by his birthmom he was in heart failure and near death. He was sent to Beijing Children’s Welfare Institute soon after he was found. The director of the orphanage at the time said when he was admitted he was in heart failure.
In April of 2001 Zak had open-heart surgery where his heart valve was replaced with a mechanical one. He spent the following 2 1/2 years at BCWI recuperating. His memories of institutional living are far from fond and even to this day he does not talk kindly of his life in a large orphanage in China. It is too depressing to recall. In 2003, at the age of seven, he came to the United States through adoption.
It would be simple to assume, because of his history, that Zak would carry a lot of emotional baggage. Remarkably he seems to shrug off the darkness of his past and through art, has discovered an inner beauty that the grey and sorrowful first seven years of his life lacked.
Once early incident stands out as a defining moment in Zak’s innate appreciation of art. This happened within a few months after his arrived in America. His English was limited, yet he knew enough to recognize true beauty.
“We take for granted what we have in this country, to listen to whatever music we want, to read whatever book we want, to drink in the beauty of a Van Gogh masterpiece whenever we want.”
Zak and his brother were playing in the living room while his sister Hannah and his other brother Sam, watched Baby VanGogh video with me. When Van Gogh's painting, Vase with 14 Sunflowers appeared on the screen, Zak stopped playing and walked over to the television screen. Standing in front of the painting, eyes fixed on the masterpiece, he said one word, "Beautiful." We all collectively stopped in our tracks. Not only did we recognize one of his first spoken words in clear English but also we realized he had a recognition of the depth of classic art. Somewhere buried deep within he knew beauty. It was a breathtaking moment. A gift.
I have often said we take for granted what we have in this country, to listen to whatever music we want, to read whatever book we want, to drink in the beauty of a Van Gogh masterpiece whenever we want. To witness Zak’s first reaction to one of the many freedoms he now had, away from the darkness of the world he left behind, was beautiful. It was humbling.
Zak is a constant reminder of what we have to be thankful for in our lives. On the day he was 'handed' to me in Beijing, China, he clutched in his hands all of his worldly possessions, all of his 'stuff'. It fit into a bag the size of an ordinary lunch sack, yet he came to me with a smile introducing his human spirit. To Zak, "stuff" was not important. Human spirit was. Once again he drew upon something within, an innate gift of strength and spirit given to him by his birthparents to endure the hardships of a difficult young life and an unknown transition to come.
Since that moment several years ago, when we saw Zak’s recognition of beauty and art he has soared with his talents. Simply put, Zak is an artist. His favorite medium is oils although his watercolor artwork and pen and ink are just as exceptional. He has participated in several art shows and has won a few honors. Because there have been requests for his work, he has just recently released a few prints for sale.
I am at times amazed at Zak’s natural gifts and am saddened to think what could have been if he hadn’t been abandoned. The ‘what if?’ is hard to imagine. Truthfully, Zak would be dead if his biological parents had not made the heart wrenching decision to leave him at the train station. The only way to fix him was to abandon him. We would not have our son and the world would not know Zak’s gifts.
Chinese tradition dictates that a person’s name is not only an identification but also a way of expressing aspirations and expectations. When Zak was born 13 years ago his birthparents had to have taken so much pride in giving him his name, Bao Shan, translated Treasured Mountain. They must have expected great things from their first born son. Sadly the path they expected came to a dramatic end because his heart stopped working properly. They were left without that all important son so vital to the Chinese culture. If only they could see their son now, their Bao Shan. If they could witness how he has lived up to his name beyond his years. I know they would be proud of the gift they gave to me, the gift of Treasured Mountain.
Thank you Zak, for sharing your Story with us.
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© 2009 by Julianne Barclay and Story of My Life