korea legacy committee
thank you for everything
Not again. I ran into my room and quickly locked the door as soon as my dad called me to pick up my grandma’s phone call.
I hate awkward. And that’s exactly what my grandma’s phone calls were — awkward.
It’s hard to connect with someone when you only see them for maybe a day or two once every few years. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve met my grandma in person because she lives across the Pacific Ocean in South Korea.
Naturally, our conversations became watered down to empty small talk.
How are you? Stay healthy. I love you.
Even telling my grandma that I loved her felt foreign on my tongue. As disheartening as it is, the reality was that she was no more than an elderly figure in my life.
But when I learned that Korea has the highest rate of senior citizen poverty and suicide, the ignorance towards my community within me became apparent. Beneath the glamorized image of Korea that I envisioned, millions of elderly in Korea — millions of grandparents just like my own grandma — were abandoned by their children, community, and even country.
He leaned against the concrete wall, his head at an angle, his weathered eyes closed. He let out a heavy sigh and furrowed his eyebrows making his wrinkled complexion more evident – an indicator of the long years of toil and resilience.
I cautiously took a seat beside him, hoping not to intimidate him with my unfamiliar presence. He briefly glanced at me then closed his eyes again. For what felt like an eternity, we sat side by side, watching the busy commuters scurry by, absorbing the buzz of the city, and listening to the blend of K-Pop music that streamed out of the numerous makeup stores and coffee shops that lined the street.
Finally, he asked, “Are you looking for someone?” That I would be there to interview him and listen to his untold stories was beyond his imagination — so when I explained that he was the one I was looking for, a warm smile radiated across his face. But still, as I looked him in the eye, the somber loneliness and soulful pain ingrained in his body could not be masked.
After quickly regaining my composure, I began my search for the rich stories that had been covered up and buried over the years. From accounts of his childhood talents to stories of the present filled with heartfelt anguish, I engaged in what quickly became a thirty-minute conversation.
It only took one sentence for him to quickly put things into perspective for me:
“Thank you for making me feel happiness again.”
As a young Korean-American, I have taken it upon myself to take on the responsibility and help create impact because the new relationships that I have built and the memories that I have helped create are evidence that my efforts have the potential to change people’s lives.
Perhaps one of the greatest things I’ve realized is that everyone needs a friend, a family member, just someone to talk to. And I am blessed to have been able to be that very person to each of the elderly that I spoke to in Korea.
My experiences with the elderly in Korea have helped me to value my own relationship with my grandma. Now, I call my grandma on my own and tell her I love you. And this time, I mean it.