I will never forget the moment I learned that my mother had passed away. Every time my phone rings and I see the hospital’s name on my caller ID I think, this is it. I would nervously wait for that call. But it did not come…for almost a year. My mother would get stronger and would fight the angels of death. She would grasp onto this precious life for every moment she could. The life she had sacrificed for me. The life she discarded as secondary so long as she sees her 6-year old child grow up in a society that will not shun or torment him for not having a father. And so, my mother abandoned the existence she knew in South Korea to bring me to America where I will be accepted. And so she embraced me and raised me under the resilient roof of her love and support. Little did this small woman with a spirit of steel know that her journey into the afterlife will one day bring her family back together.
Should I scatter the dust of your being onto the Pacific ocean? Or do you want to stay warm here with me? Bless my wife Nancy who realized the depth of my despair. She knew that I had to send off my mother in a most meaningful way. How could I ever requite my mother’s labor throughout my life when she has already passed? In typical Nancy fashion, being the most thoughtful and empathetic woman that I know, she suggested to take my mother back home to South Korea. This, as it turns out, was a revealing journey of the loneliness within me.
The opportunity, freedom, and pure potential that Los Angeles offered me came at the price of complete loneliness. Loneliness I didn’t know existed within me because I cannot know what I never had. I do not know the warmth of a family gathering on the weekend. I do not know the wit of my niece who is both clever and beautiful. I do not know the playfulness of my oldest brother who looks much too young for retirement. I do not know the intermingling passion and anger within my nephew who much like myself in my youth, is trying to find answers in a world that seems unfair.
My journey led me directly to the city of Incheon where our flight landed. As a city by the sea, Incheon opened up it’s port to the outside world and ushered in modernity, solidifying South Korea as a center of industrialization. The city of Seoul took my breath away with its vibrant and pulsating energy. The laughter, joy, and clinging beer bottles of the young crowd still echo in my mind. I couldn’t fathom how a city with such dire history after the Korean War can transform into this gleaming, booming, and progressive economy in just over 60 years.