25 years ago my son was born in Seoul, South Korea. He came to our family by human courier and was delivered into our world by a plane. I knew intellectually he was Korean. His beautiful almond eyes, his skin a color different from my own, his black shiny hair told me that. But in my heart, it was hard to grasp what being from Korea meant. It felt like missing fingerprints. I longed to know who he was, what his DNA story told, where he had been created.
24 years later I sit in the Gangnam province of Seoul in an air b and b and look out the window, surrounded by a sea of people that look like the son I raised. I can smell the food, hear the language, feel the heartbeat of the city. This, I think, is what my son would have seen and heard.
When my girl decided to accept an internship in Seoul we knew this was my chance. I began to read and watch everything I could find on Korea, hungry to learn. I have always loved to see the eyes through other people, those in my neighborhood and those in other parts of the world, to remind myself that my way is not the only way to live a life, that the world and it’s people are an amazing place to walk among.
We landed on Korean soil after a long and tiring 24 hours and immediately felt the throng of people; those in the immigration line, the customs line, the COVID testing line and finally the traffic teeming through streets reflecting the setting sun and the bright city lights. There was a settled patience, in the middle of the swarm of fast trains, fast subways, as if the multitude of people had taught them to not resent the wait; to just keep going.
We’d made friends through online resources ready to meet us, eager to show us their country or, in Sarah’s case, her adopted country. Sarah came here from the heartland of America to teach and eventually met her husband, a Korean man, and has settled here for the distance. She is kind and giving and loves the people around her well. She and her husband sow into the beautiful children they have been entrusted to teach with intention.
She came to collect me on our first day in country and helped me navigate the subway,to take me to church and introduce me to the people already familiar to me through the magic of the internet, having skyped into their world for several church services. They welcomed me with bows and waves and homemade cake by one of the pastors, complete with chopsticks to eat it with. We walked down the street after the service, several of us, to a Vietnamese restaurant and ate together. I had no idea how to order, what to order and the usual rhythm at home?… going to a restaurant and knowing just how it works?… was replaced by dependency on my group to lead me. This is their life; this view, this food, this cadence. I am honored to be a part of this snapshot of time and take a picture in my mind. Wendy and Hannah and Laurie and names I’ve now forgotten…..all have stories, hurts, joys, losses and gains and I stand beside them and wish I could “read” their books.
Steven was born in Korea and found his way out of poverty as a child into a well respected profession and position as a legal counselor in a large company. He works long hours without complaint and strives to provide for his wife and children. He is dignified, diligent and kind. He introduced me to Korean fried chicken and patiently answered all my questions. It was fun to slow down and learn to understand one another; to make room and time in our lives to sit across a table and see one another. We walked along the streets together, the young people streaming toward and around us like tumbling fish, and I marveled that two people a half a globe apart, strangers just 7 months ago, now shared a meal and a walk in his country.
It’s a marvel, really, that God, the creator of us all, in so many shapes, sizes, colors and languages share this globe together. There is a Korean phrase….Let’s walk the flower road, a lovely way to say “Let’s walk on the road filled with happiness and success together.” How beautiful it would be if all of us could spend time with strangers and make friends, to celebrate what is the same and what is different, to see and hear each other and learn to walk the flower road together. <3