An Ode to Harahbuhji

I step inside the dimly lit room, my eyes perusing the all-together familiar scene: grandma’s rocking chair collecting dust in the corner, the pile of ee-bools haphazardly lying on top of one another, old-fashioned wardrobes that remain in their former glory, waiting in acquiescence of their approaching demise. Then my eyes return to the one I’ve made the long trek to Il-san for: my grandpa.

The man who ran across the South/North Korean border in wartime in search of safety, of freedom, of protection. Safety from not only the piercing bullets and whistling missiles decimating his homeland, but from persecution and ideological dogmatism. The man who tore his heart and body away from his family, unaware that it would be the last time he saw them. The man who remained stoic, stern, and unemotional but was steadfast in his beliefs, confident in his identity, and consistent in his actions. The man who I did not know, yet seem to know so intimately in my heart and spirit. Sometimes the dead make more of an indelible mark on you than the living.

I remember I would make monthly trips to my grandparents’ house, and as a part of our routine, we would visit him in his room where he lay in his bed, making unintelligible gurgling sounds as we approached. Now I know that it was his way of telling us how much he missed us, how it was so good to see us, how we are growing so quickly every year, how he was dying to talk to us and hear from us. I wish I told him the same things. I wish I told him that I wanted to talk to him, that I wanted to hear his story, that I thought he was the bravest soul out there to sacrifice everything and start a family among strangers.

I remember caressing his soft hands, that’s really the strongest memory I have of him. That brief sense of connection was so precious. I still have so many questions. Actually, the older I get, the more questions arise within me. What was he thinking all those years as he lay in bed? Was he blaming and cursing God? Was he praying for us? What was life to him? What meaning did it have? It’s strange to feel a surge of sorrow, pain, and disappointment when I think about the time stolen away from us, but also to find so much hope and strength in his legacy.

Knowing what he left behind, I know everything was not in vain. I know there was meaning in every single moment of his life, until his last breath. I still sometimes think of those days when he was still around, those mundane trips to his room, in-and-out, a mechanical process void of emotion or purpose. I don’t know what’s bringing me back to him, but a part of me thinks that I couldn’t be who I was if it weren’t for him.

This is an ode to my beloved harahbuhji. I realize it’s a privilege to carry a piece of someone in you, and I realize that is perhaps how I want to leave this world: leaving a piece of me in someone’s heart.

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