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Growing up, I learned about an old Asian proverb that says there is an invisible red thread that connects those destined to meet. The thread may stretch or tangle, but it will never break. This proverb was often used as a story for lovers who, despite all odds, met each other and fell in love. However, many also use this proverb in the adoption realm to show that even though some parents did not conceive and birth their children, they were still destined to be a family—with the child and the biological family. This story resonated with me as a child. First, I liked it because it was one of the few connections I had to Asian culture. Additionally, I saw the red thread as connected not just to my family, but to my childhood house, my friends, and my lifestyle. I often entertained the belief that something or someone greater than me controlled my fate and led me to where I belonged. 


Red is an important color. As an English major, I learned that the color red can mean a variety of things: passion, rage, intensity, war, and love. For example, in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s classic The Scarlet Letter, the color red represents both passion (which earned her the scarlet letter in the first place) and anger (for being labeled and shunned by her society). Red has a plethora of meanings in western literature. 

For me, being adopted created a lot of red feelings. I have always been passionate about adoption and encouraged those around me to consider adoption instead of or in addition to having children the traditional way. I have a love for and an appreciation of being adopted because I understand that I have so many more opportunities here than I ever would in China. On the other hand, despite all the work I have done on myself, I still have some anger about my birth parents’ choice. Adoption often creates a war in my mind because I feel so happy about being adopted, but I also have the occasional moment where I feel upset by it as well. Red is an interesting color because it can represent two different ends of emotion. 

In China, however, red holds different meanings. Red symbolizes luck, joy, and happiness. Red is the color of celebration in Chinese culture. In fact, Chinese brides wear red because it is believed to symbolize vitality and ward off evil. This is seen even in the Chinese culture portrayed in the media. In Disney’s Mulan, the festival scene towards the end of the movie features tons of red: the imperial palace is red, all the lanterns for the festival are red, and there is a lucky red dragon walking through the cheering crowd. Most people know of (and sometimes participate in) the Lunar New Year tradition of exchanging red envelopes filled with money. 

The fact the thread is red is important. The color red symbolizes luck, joy, and divinity. It makes sense—the red thread is supposedly divine as it connects two people destined to meet. 


Perhaps a detail many would overlook, a thread is an interesting choice for this proverb as well. Threads are thin but tangible. They are not like ropes, which are thick and heavy. Ropes pull—they leave marks and may be associated with imprisonment. Rope imagery is heavy and forceful; it implies no control over your actions. Meanwhile, anything thinner than a thread would likely break in the face of resistance. 

I went to Catholic school from kindergarten through high school. I learned about the Catholic faith for eighteen years or so. The resemblance between the way God was portrayed throughout my childhood and this story of the red thread always resonated with me. There is a significant duality to be noted: God is a good, loving Father who had our best interest at heart, but it was ultimately still up to us whether we wanted to make the decision to let Him in or not. This red thread has the same element. The thread is directing you, but it does not control you. You still make the decisions and call the shots. People connected by this thread still make choices and bear the consequences, but there is a strong belief that some divine power is leading you towards a greater destiny. 

A Lesson from the Red Thread Proverb

Adoption can cause so many feelings: happiness, appreciation, anger, fear. I have not yet adopted children so I cannot speak about that. However, as an adoptee, I do feel like I ended up where I was supposed to as the result of my adoption. I live in a beautiful city with a supportive family and a solid circle of friends. I think growing up in a faith with a higher power as well as with this cultural symbol of the red thread has made my life more fruitful. I have lived my whole life fostering the belief that destiny has something great planned for me; and even though I am not related to my family by blood, I am where I am meant to be. This made it easier for me to muddle through the harder days as I was taught that something greater was always on its way. On the other hand, both my faith and this proverb have given me a strong moral code and made me extra deliberate about my choices because I was taught that my words and actions mattered. Either way, I have a lot of trust in the divine and that I am on the right track, even though my origin story involves loss. Ultimately, I am thankful to my parents for introducing these belief systems to me early in my life. 

If you are a hopeful parent or a parent who has already adopted, I would consider introducing this proverb to your child(ren). Obviously, it is not one-size-fits-all and maybe that is not what is right for your family, but as an adoptee, I can say it has eased my mind a lot when I have stayed up wondering about what my life would be like if I was not adopted or if I was making the right choices. To my fellow adoptees, you do not have to believe in this kind of divinity, but I believe you are where you need to be. If you have not already, I hope you find the people your red thread is connected to soon: the people who make your soul thrive.

Katie Kaessinger is an international adoptee from China now residing in Southern California. After graduating from the University of California, Irvine in June 2020 with her BA in English, Katie started law school at the California Western School of Law. Katie hopes to be a family lawyer and specialize in child advocacy and dependency to work with children in the foster care system and adoptees as well as foster and adoptive parents. In her spare time, Katie enjoys listening to and writing music, singing, drawing, playing with her pets, and spending time with her friends (with a mask on and from six feet away!).