The captain of the South Korean ferry that sank in April was sentenced to 36 years in prison. As a member of the global community I should care, and I do. But I seem to care more than normal.
Why does anything South Korean affect me like this? Why am I pulled in? Why do my ears ignite when I hear Korean spoken on the street (or as I pass numerous nail salons)?
Like nearly everyone in the world, I feel for the families of the victims. I feel for the families of the captain and crew. I even feel for the captain and crew. But I also feel more.
I was taught that Korea is the chosen land. I was taught to revere and idolize everything, and everyone, Korean. I was taught that Korean was the holy language and Koreans were the holy people – inherently truer and closer to God. I’m pretty sure I don’t believe it any longer, but my visceral reactions imply that in some ways I might.
I didn’t grow up feeling Jewish. I don’t identify with Israel. I don’t cringe when religious Jews are convicted of crimes, fearing the shadow they cast on the Jewish people, as many Jews do. But Korea…
I love kimchee, although I rarely eat it. I enjoy Korean food in general, but rarely choose a Korean restaurant for lunch or dinner. Too many memories. I’m drawn to Korean dance and music and culture…and at the same time repelled.
Did someone, or rather, did Rev. Sun Myung Moon, indelibly carve Korean letters in my psyche? I know I still try and read Korean whenever I see it on church and store signs. I think he did. I’m just not sure if they were carved with an extremely sharp instrument, or an extremely dull one. Which carves deeper and more eternally?
I’m all for finding the good in my past. And, contrary to many people’s beliefs and opinions, there was a pretty fair amount of good. But I just don’t understand why I’m tethered to Korea. What is up with that?
In many ways we have no control over what we learn and what is engraved on us when we’re young. I have no control over my instinctual connection to Korea. But it’s so blatant that I have to look at it and wonder.
Then I wonder what other carvings are in and on me. And in and on all of us. How many of our reactions to life, to circumstances, and to others are a result of something that happened way, way, way a long time ago, something we might not understand or even remember?
Will South Korea always pull me in? Perhaps.
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