« Back to Blog

Writing Finding Zoe—the backstory.

May 31, 2014
“From a distance you look like my friend,
even though we are at war.
From is distance I just cannot comprehend,
what all the fighting’s for.
From a distance there is harmony
that echoes through the land,  
It’s the hope of hopes, it’s the love of loves,
It’s the heart of every man.” —Julie Gold

Everybody’s life story was meant to be told up close, and from a distance. Tweet This

There are times in our life, if we are lucky, when a project we take on ignites us so deeply and completely that we know we are embarking upon our highest destiny. We don’t know the particulars, for our work has barely begun. Yet, we are at play, we are in the flow; something greater than we can even imagine is clearly being orchestrated. The work is incredibly challenging, yet, a vision set fire inside of us guides our way. We are piercingly focused on writing that one crucial sentence exactly right, working it and working it, ignoring hunger pangs and bathroom calls, because it’s almost there, and we just can’t rest, until it is. Our excitement—even when sending emails makes time disappear. This project has our name on it. If we could eliminate time, it would already be completed, and we’d just be waiting to see how it all unfolds. One thing is certain; when all of the pieces finally fit together it will be so much bigger than just the sum of its parts. 

So it was with writing Finding Zoe, the memoir due out in October that I  co-wrote with a woman named Brandi Rarus, whose story it is (although the book was initially supposed to be about her daughter). Brandi is a former Miss Deaf America, but I didn’t know it when we first started collaborating, because she didn’t like talking about it much. She didn’t even mention that she was deaf in her first few emails, and her mastery of the written word surely didn’t prick up my ears. In fact, the way that she expressed herself—her use of words and voice—reminded me so much of myself, that if anything, she could have been my long-lost sister. When she wrote that she was deaf I felt strangely excited, as if some part of me already knew the gift I’d been given in helping her to tell her story, and how in the telling, it would become mine, as well. The fact that several years prior I had developed my own small hearing loss also meant something, only I didn’t know what—except that the plot to my own life story had thickened.

Even then I sensed that Brandi and I were both getting what we needed—her, having me tell her story and me, telling it. (Later, when I realized from the interviewing how all of the characters’ paths had merged so perfectly, pointing at that Oneness, and that we are all part of each other and part of Life’s flow, it was hard to tell where the story ended and the telling of it began.)

No, at first Brandi wanted to tell the story of her daughter’s amazing adoption. Although her information about Zoe’s early months of life before adopting her weren’t plentiful, what she did know, and had experienced in her own life led her to believe that divine intervention had brought her and her daughter together. Definitely my kind of story. She didn’t mention, at first, that Zoe had already been adopted once before, which I thought was an interesting omission; but based on the story she originally wanted to tell, it made perfect sense. She said that she didn’t see herself in the story, except where necessary, which was why, shortly after, when I explained that I saw the story as being so much bigger—that, in fact, it was really her story, and Zoe’s adoption part of that, it took some time for her to fully digest and embrace it—it was not what she had in mind. However, an exceptional marketing and sales person, Brandi knows a good pitch when she sees one. I also think that she was just following her destiny. Brandi also said that she didn’t believe that the fact that she and Zoe were deaf was relevant to the story. I just remained open.

A sucker for miracles and synchronicities, the topic of adoption had also initially perked my interest in the project. I am an adoptive mother, too, and think of my experience of adopting my son at birth as my own private miracle. I had wanted to write about adoption some day, although not by telling my son’s own personal story. I didn’t know if I ever would—until meeting Brandi. Of the one hundred plus writers who had shown interest in the project, I somehow convinced her that I was the one.

And so my work began. Over the following two years I conducted over seventy-five interviews, most of them over an hour long. I spent hours preparing for each one, devising questions that when answered by the people involved, I hoped, would reveal synchronicities and twists of fate that made even God’s head spin.

What an experience. From the interviewing process alone, before a single word had even been written on the page, profound healing had happened for the people involved. I suppose from speaking their own truth, from being heard, from hearing the other person’s point of view, their blame and resentment faded away, understanding and compassion taking its place. These incredible, ordinary people—initially strangers to me, opened up about one of the most difficult and painful experiences of their lives. They did it for themselves. They did it for Zoe. They did it for the story.

It was meant to be. Pretty quickly the story’s landscape began unfolding in my mind’s eye, as if I were up in the sky and looking down, time and space falling away…

From a distance I saw perfection. I saw it in each of the character’s individual stories unfolding, as well as in the larger story of Zoe’s adoption unfolding; how everything had to happen exactly as it did, in just the right time, for little Zoe to find where she truly belonged. There was an order to their crazy lives—and a good order, despite the pain and heartache, despite the fact that, at the time, they may not have believed that it was true. There was harmony in the chaos. Where once there was judgment and blame was only the highest triumph of the human spirit; a tapestry whose splendor couldn’t exist without all those ugly little knots and loose ends hidden on the underside, love tieing the entire story together. Things had happened for a reason, the trajectory of events undeniable proof of a larger, divine plan, and that our lives are all interconnected. It was all meant to be.

Yet, it was only when I began interviewing Brandi and her husband Tim, who is also deaf, that the story’s majesty truly began to dawn on me. It also became clear that Brandi and Zoe’s being deaf had everything to do with the story.

Having never met a deaf person before, Brandi and Tim’s lives were a revelation to me. Had they not been leaders in the Deaf community, had they not been at the forefront of the American Deaf revolution, I still would have been utterly astounded by the richness and soulfulness of their journeys, and of what I was learning. An entire group of people that I didn’t even know existed, with a history, culture, and language that touched me to the core. The fact that these two had been at helm of their community’s struggle for freedom, and it’s victory—and still are—made everything all the more incredible.

As a writer, this was an orgy of information. The more that I inhaled Deaf History, Culture, and learned about their language, American Sign Language, the more ecstatic I became. The more ecstatic I became the more I believed that other people would be, too—both hearing and deaf, each for different reasons. Yes, what might have been a lovely book about an adoption had morphed into something so much more spectacular, so much more important; and in my heart I felt that it was my responsibility—and honor—to give the story it’s due. So as Brandi’s life journey pressed forth reaching its highest expression, so, too, did the story that tells it.

It goes something like this: After becoming deaf  and struggling greatly, Brandi Rarus learns to love and accept herself in all her magnificence, and taking her rightful place in the world, fulfills her destiny. Her life is seen as a grand adventure, much like an ongoing play, continuously being written, directed, staged and produced by her very best, most-trusted friend, as she stars or Plays in it. We have no idea what will happen next, but it is always wondrous, and we’ll marvel at the amazing juxtapositions of people and events.

We’ll see how love can take on many guises, about the fruitlessness of assigning blame, and that what may seem horrible up close is beautiful from a distance. We’ll be reminded that life isn’t about being perfect or not making mistakes; it is, partly about doing what you believe is right, no matter how difficult. We’ll learn that true power is not won by control or manipulation but by being open and exploring life’s uncertainties, trusting in ourselves, and in something much greater than ourselves, by believing in the power of love.

We’ll understand that Brandi’s story is all of our stories; it is mine, and it is yours.

If you believe that your life story is as great as this—or greater, and are interested in having me help you to tell it, you can contact me at: gail@gailharrisauthor.com.

Finding Zoe—A Deaf Woman’s Story of Identity, Love, and Adoption, by Brandi Rarus and Gail Harris. Launch Date: October 2014

Finding Zoe, by Btandi Rarus and Gail Harris

Purchase Book

Leave a Reply

Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.

Please solve the problem above for security reasons.