A few days ago I was thinking about setting some goals for myself in my photography. One of them was that I want to photograph something that no one has ever seen before… Then it occurred to me, that I just did that… Last week…

Maybe it wasn’t obvious to me that no one had ever seen this before since at face value, it was just a group of people standing in the woods holding a ceremony. Nothing revolutionary. But more important than that was the meaning and significance of this particular ceremony. It was completely new. Completely original and totally captivating.

For me, this story started a couple months ago when I got contacted by Alisa Tongg, but the real story started 20 years ago with a girl named Tisha looking at a pregnancy test indicating positive in the bathroom of her college dorm.

From this point, I’m going to let Alisa’s words do the talking. The following are selected excerpts from the ceremony which Alisa wrote to reunite Tisha with her now 20-year-old son who was adopted.

For the next nine months, she and Josiah were together all the time. Together, they went to the park and prenatal doctor appointments where she heard JJ’s heart beat for the first time…Everyone was awestruck as JJ’s fist would move across or his footprints would press up against Tisha’s belly…all the while, their hearts beating within inches of each other…

It was during this time, that Tisha set out to find an extraordinary couple to become Josiah’s parents…

When it came time for Josiah to be born, [Tisha’s best friend] Wendi remembers watching, completely captivated, as her friend demonstrated a strength of mind she had never witnessed before. It was primal power. Tisha was focused, quiet and determined. After a difficult and drug-free labor, delivery was rapid and easy, there were “maybe two pushes” and this perfect little baby boy had arrived…

Josiah spent the first two days of his life with his mother, sleeping next to her and on her chest in the recovery room, many times Tisha could be found “looking into his eyes,” she fed him and instinctively trimmed his long fingernails with gentle nibbles. He was alert and healthy…in their last night together Tisha dreamed that Josiah would grow up knowing that he was loved…

The next morning, Tisha shares, “I literally thought I was going to die of heartbreak when I kissed JJ, placed him back in the hospital bassinette and moved forward.

In all of those years, while they were separated, there was not a day that went by that Josiah wasn’t in Tisha’s thoughts and heart. For the first five years, she sent him cards and packages on his birthday. Her parents and closest friends would send Tisha acknowledgments on Mothers Day, she bought a Christmas ornament for Josiah every year. JJ was never a secret, how could he be? He had transformed Tisha into a mother and introduced her to a depth and capacity to love that she had, up until then, only been on the receiving end of. Tisha’s husband Rob, was always confident that one day they would know Josiah…

And that dream did come true. Encouraged and supported by his good friend Ali, when Josiah turned 19, he did some sleuthing and found his birth mother on Facebook. The need to know about our original family is universal… Without knowing how it would be received, Josiah reached out to generate a connection, and that act of courage and hope ultimately, transformed and reunited this entire tribe.

A month after they reconnected over Skype, Tisha flew into Bozeman for their reunion in person. The last time she had held him, Josiah was only seven pounds, now a grown man, he had come to the airport to pick her up.

As Tisha walked across the terminal straight for Josiah, she said, “I have 20 years of love to catch you up on.” They embraced and held on to each other for about five minutes there. At one point, Tisha whispered, “you don’t have to let go, ever.” And Josiah responded, “I don’t plan to”.

They spent the entire weekend together, Josiah gave Tisha a tour of the town and all the places that meant something to him. And just like 20 years before in the hospital, he fell asleep on his mother’s chest both nights. At one point, at a park, Tisha even pushed Josiah on a swing. At that moment she says she realized that “there was still so much time for them.”

That realization, that the future was theirs to shape, is what has made today’s reunion possible. Today we have the opportunity to reorient ourselves in a common direction as we invest and celebrate the bonds between us.

After the story of his birth and their reunion was told, a family tartan plaid was then passed from Tisha through everyone in attendance, until it came to Papa Bob, who placed the family clan symbol over the shoulders of his grandson. The rain became more intense as Tisha turned to her first born son and promised that she would “grip fast to their sacred connection”. The family concluded the reunion ceremony by creating a web to demonstrate their connectedness. Each member of the tribe using a bundle of yarn they had worked together to cut on the ferry ride over.  Everyone took their turn to formally connect with JJ as an integral member of the family, then they exchanged their rainbow connections and heart cords with all the other members of this tribe.

It’s going to be messy and complicated…and fun…and it’s going to be beautiful.

Linda Hogan writes,

“Suddenly all my ancestors are behind me. Be still, they say. Watch and listen.

You are the result of the love of thousands.”