I also contacted the college freshman who had been adopted by a Hispanic father (now deceased), had taken his name, and was raised to believe her biological father had also been Hispanic. It turns out the bio dad was probably Armenian. However, she had been offered a scholarship for Hispanic students and wondered if she should take it. I said yes, for which I was attacked as a tool of the racial and ethnic preference lobby. Here’s the freshman’s follow-up: “I've taken the scholarship and am morally and ethically at peace with it. I was raised thinking of and identifying myself as Hispanic. My adoptive father—the only father I knew—and the assumptions I was raised under makes me still feel and identify as Hispanic. Taking the scholarship has given me a sense of obligation to academic excellence to prove my worthiness.” I think there are legitimate questions about affirmative action. I also think they aren’t going to be resolved by making it harder for one young woman, who thinks of herself as Hispanic, to pay for college.
Four years ago I got a letter from one Unembraced, whose problem was that she longed, tearfully, for her darling new boyfriend to cuddle with her all night. He refused on the grounds of sweatiness. I said I was with the boyfriend and that being entwined all night made me feel like I was sleeping with a boa constrictor. She wrote a few months ago: “I married the non-cuddler and we are super happy. I feel now that problem was so insignificant. We now sporadically cuddle before bed and in the morning. You were right and I needed some perspective. And I learned not to take it personally.”
Then there was a letter from a woman who had been "adopted" by two little neighbor girls who were growing up in deprived, difficult circumstances. She liked the girls but wanted to tell them, nicely, to get lost. I encouraged her to step up in a limited way—maybe an hour or so a week—and do an activity with them and be a warm presence in their lives. I did not hear back from this writer, but I did hear from two other people who had been in similar circumstances.
The first, Corine Hollingsworth, wrote in to say that when she was a college student 15 years ago, she met a 6-year-old neighborhood girl one evening while walking her dog:
Within weeks, the 6-year-old and her younger sister were constant fixtures on the porch of the home I shared with my roommates. Their single mother worked long hours, and they left colored pictures on our porch, along with gifts of rocks and twigs. They came over for tea parties, dress up, or help with homework. We were all busy college "women" with papers to write and parties to attend. However, I am so glad that we did not view our little neighbors as pests. Oh, what I would have missed! Some of the best advice I have ever gotten came from them: "Don't worry about him; he's not worrying about you." "It stays lighter in the summer time because there are more fun things to do outside." “When people love you, they just do.” I moved from that town over ten years ago, but I came back to celebrate the youngest girl’s high school graduation. When I told her about your letter writer, she begged me, "Tell her what they'll miss." She meant the little girls, but I am telling you for the writer. Little neighbor girls are a blessing she shouldn't miss.
Another reader told this story:
Many years ago, when I still had my three children at home, the doorbell rang at 6:30 a.m. on a school day. It was the little 8-year-old neighbor boy, holding a science project. He lived with a single dad who had some impairments. He asked me to drive him and the project to school. The boy was hungry. I fed him breakfast and packed him a lunch. I fed him several days a week for eight years. When he was in college he told me that I could have no idea how important that was to his life. He said he always knew ‘where to find food and a smile.’ Set boundaries, but give to those girls.
Finally, a sad one. Last May I ran a letter from a woman in her 40s who was dying of cancer and had decided to stop treatment. Her loved ones kept urging her to try some extreme and painful procedures, hoping for a miracle. She wanted to know what to tell them. I gave her some suggestions and links to articles for her to print out to help them understand her choice. In August I got an email from a friend of the letter writer saying she had shown my answer to people, and that she had died the night before, surrounded by her family. The friend wrote: “She was an amazing human being, loving and funny and crazy and so, so kind; I am incredibly lucky I got to have her in my life. I just wanted to let you know that your compassionate response was a comfort and an answer for those who loved her, and we appreciate it.” It is an honor to think this column might have helped ease the pain surrounding someone’s last days. And it is a reminder for all of us to remember how precious our time with our loved ones is.
Thank you for letting me share another year of your amazing questions, and insightful and provocative comments.