Saturday, September 14, 2013

An Unexpected Homecoming

I'm home. I'm in California, and I'm sitting on my bed next to my stuffed animals and an emptied suitcase, and it feels very odd.

Only one month into my second year teaching, I couldn't have predicted this little break coming so soon. One sunny Sunday afternoon a few weeks ago, I was just beginning plans for winter holiday travel when my brother called and broke the news to me: A-kong, my grandfather, had passed away.

It was expected for me to attend the funeral. All nine of my grandfather's grandchildren had to come back from the far corners of the country (and the world, in my case). So, I asked for some time off from my school, booked the cheapest ticket I could find, and rearranged my plans to make room for an emergency trip home.

One thing I'm really thankful for and impressed by is the outpouring of sympathy from the Koreans in my circles. I wasn't planning on telling too many people what my plans were for the weekend, but obviously, I had to inform my co-teachers, since they have to cover seven classes for me. I also told my taekgyeon master and fellow trainees, and the night before I left, I paid a visit to my host parents from last year and broke the news to them, as well. The response was touching. My host parents asked me again and again if I was okay and if my family was holding together. My taekgyeon master gave me a gift of rice wine to take home to my parents. My co-teachers even collected some money for my family. It's a tradition to collect some funds for a 유족 (grieving family) to help cover funeral costs; there's even a special envelope you can buy for this very purpose. Although I don't think my family really needs the money they gave, it was such a strong manifestation of their kindness -- the same selflessness and helpfulness they have shown to me all year, which I have learned is called 정, that I was momentarily speechless when they gave it to me. I don't think I could bow low enough to show my gratitude!

Now that I'm actually home, though, everything feels kind of strange. I could attribute the feeling to 시차 (jetlag), but really, a part of me keeps telling me, "You're not supposed to be here right now. You should be teaching! You're supposed to be in Korea; why are you in California?" Obviously, this voice is delusional. What's most important right now is my family and the support I can give them for these five short days. I'm especially worried about my A-ma, whom I visited as soon as I got home. As far back as I can remember, I have never seen her cry, so I was shocked to see that she was sobbing when she opened the door to greet me this morning. It was partly joy to see me (despite having come from the farthest away, I was one of the first of the nine back for the weekend) and partly her utter sorrow that A-kong couldn't also be there to say hi to his youngest grandchild.

My last words to my grandfather, spoken before I left for Korea one month ago, were that I would see him again at Christmastime. I guess I got the timing wrong.

When most of the family gathered tonight for dinner and rehearsal for some of the songs we will sing at tomorrow's memorial service, I knew then that I was indeed in the right place. And at the right time. I will probably feel odd all weekend -- after all, death, though as common to the human experience as life, is never an easy thing to face for the first time -- but I know that everything will be okay. My family and I trust in God, who leads us into tough times and then back out of them, stronger or wiser or closer than ever before.
阿公, 我想你! 在主耶穌的懷裡安息.

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