I find myself gravitating, more frequently now, towards the familiar and comfortable, usually in small forms. I enjoy fresh, clean sheets. I sip on warm coffee, either at home or at one of Seoul’s many fine cafes. I warm myself up with tea at night, usually after an exceptionally large meal. I watch the same shows I watched in the states, namely K-Dramas and K-Varieties. I read, and I write. I pray and confess. As I create new rhythms I incorporate old ones in this new place. Thankfully, my simple pleasures are not tightly space-bound. I can rest between mint sheets in or out of the States, as long as there are sheets and some sort of washing method. I can rivet about theology in or out of the States. And I can savor coffee, whether an exquisite pour-over or one of Maxim’s KANU mixes.
I have a little over two months left. As time’s arrow marches forward (a little Bojack tribute), questions germinate. Why am I here? What have I accomplished? More importantly, who am I becoming? Often people ask me the first question, Why Korea first? My go-to answer is: if I’m going to spend a year in unfamiliar places, I want to start with the least unfamiliar. I have friends and family in Korea. I don’t in the other places I’m looking. But go-to answers are often formed by a balance of what to show and what to hide. What I want to show is that I know why I am here. Ironically but unsurprisingly, what I want to hide is that I don’t know why I am here. But that’s not news. I’m sure that most people in the world do not do and live always with 100% certainty.
Life is lived in the mire of trust and doubt, hope and disappointment, wants and dislikes—not in absolute certainty.
Certainly, though, there are moments of absolute certainty, but they can fade away into doubt or solidify as trust. For example, I first was certain that this Parish Pulpit Fellowship was mistaken in choosing me. Then I was certain that it is an awesome gift. Now I continue to trust that it is God’s gift to do something in and through me. This evolution from certainty to trust is good because trust is sturdier than flutters of certainty. While moments of certainty can pass by, trust stays rooted. This is because trust is nursed by critical reflection and strengthened by action. So, I ask myself, what have I accomplished?
Not much, I think. According to my proposed reading schedule, I am very behind. But I’m delighted to report that I’m not too bothered by that, which is, again, big for me. Maybe “accomplished” is not the right verb. I’ve done a few big things: I went to Southeast Asia for the first time, saw the the great temple of Angkor Wat and others, and enjoyed the rapidly-modernized Kuala Lumpur (see photos from Cambodia).
I’ve also done many small things: ordered 배달 (delivery food), munched on street food, roamed my neighborhood, spent long hours commuting and listening to audiobooks (Mistborn! See review here), walked into restaurants at odd hours, drank wine and read, and frequented convenient stores (god-sends, if you ask me).
And I still make mistakes. I still get lost. I still get hot flashes when I mishear or misunderstand what someone says. I’m sure I’ve mispronounced or misspoke a word or phrase, exposing my foreign upbringing. I still sleep late and wake up late. I still lounge around at home instead of braving the (now colder) streets—exploring and learning with my senses. It’s hard to fit-in or adjust when time is relatively short… and when you’re an introvert.
All these—the big and small things I’ve done, and the mistakes I’ve gathered—help form and shape who I am.
The hardest doing is being—or becoming. So, the question of who am I becoming is crucial. It is the searing question.
Right after take-off from LAX, I cried for the first time (in a long while) on the plane. I left good people—people who loved me dearly. I felt both alone yet deeply loved. Precious memories of love and more importantly of those good people rushed and soothed as I shed tears. It was both an uncontrolled and silent sob—a mixture of grief and gratitude, sweet to the heart but salty to the lips.
I’m reminded of—because I’m reading—C.S. Lewis’s Out of the Silent Planet. As Ransom the inquisitive philologist, or linguist, dug into the alien Hrossa language and mind through Hyoi, he raised questions about customs and habits. The Hrossa are naturally, almost biologically, monogamous. What’s more, they rarely mate. This baffled Ransom: if a Hross has the chance and means, why not enjoy sexual pleasures more or have more children? Why be stuck with only the memories of these pleasures? Hyoi, equally baffled by Ransom, replied thus:
A pleasure is full grown only when it is remembered. You are speaking, Hman, as if the pleasure were one thing and the memory another. It is all one thing…. What you call remembering is the last part of the pleasure… When you and I met, the meeting was over very shortly, it was nothing. Now it is growing something as we remember it. But still we know very little about it. What it will be when I remember it as I lie down to die, what it makes in me all my days till then—that is the real meeting.
Likewise, I do not always interact with love ones, but I savor the memories we’ve garnered together. I do not savor them because the pleasure has ended, but because the they are part of the pleasure. I let them blossom in me, so that they might become cherished treasures. And these treasures, too, shape who I am becoming. So, when people meet me, I hope they’ll meet more than me. I hope they’ll meet the people who have treasured me and I them.