Recently I find myself often being left alone at home. All my three children have grown up, got married and left us (me and my wife). My mother who had been living with me passed away years ago at the venerable age of 91. (My father died early of tuberculosis during the Korean War when I was just an elementary schoolboy.)
My wife, who has been a faithful housekeeper all her life, seldom stays at home these days. She goes out often to have her own time with her friends. She knows I can well take care of myself at home during her absence.
I am quite well accustomed to the silence of the house by now. At first, for some period of time, I felt somewhat uneasy at being left alone in the empty apartment all day. I had experienced the same feeling early in my life from boyhood, especially when I came home from school to find nobody at home.
But the silence of the house I have now is not the same in its kind and intensity. It is most likely to increase and intensify as time wears on. I feel the weight of it. Evidently it will persistently stay with me until I die. In it I am growing old day by day, silently and invisibly approaching my death. Sometimes I am afraid of it.
I look around and find that not only is my direct family absent from my view, but nearly all of my elder relatives, close and distant, have disappeared from this world. And all of my teachers, who taught me and whom I remember with fondness and reverence, from my elementary school through high school to college, have also all gone to the other world.
Now I find I have only my peers around, but they are also very old, weak and sick and have begun to leave. Many have already left. To my great surprise and sorrow, I have no elders in the world to turn to in times of difficulty. Now I am on my own in all matters of life. Often I see myself metamorphosed into a lone leaf hanging on a naked old tree whose leaves are all blown away by the cold winter wind with the few that still remain trembling on it. The dead leaves are lying on the ground huddled and quiet, no longer blown hither and thither in the wind.
From time to time the deadly silence of the house is shattered by the unexpected ringing of the telephone bell and my heart leaps with piercing joy, but I know that they are from a real-estate dealer inducing me to invest in a new development project, or from a pollster surveying public opinion on some political issue, or from a saleswoman promoting some new product.
The truth is that all alone at home all day I rarely and seldom have any telephone calls coming in for me. Nobody calls to ask for anything of me anymore. They know I can do nothing for them now. I recall the time with wistfulness when there were too many telephone calls to answer. Some of the calls made a big difference in my life then.
Sometimes, on an impulse, I decide, plan and prepare to go out somewhere in the morning. Like a man who has very important business to deal with, I take a bath, shave meticulously, check my shirt and tie, but soon realize I have no person to meet and no business to do in particular, and I give up the great enterprise of going out and decide to stay at home as usual. Like a bird accustomed to the ease and comfort in a cage, I have become lazy and weak. I am afraid of going out and meeting people. The stairs in the subway are too steep and my knees are not good enough to climb them up or down. Going out has become a great adventure for me.
Still I miss the time when I was required to wear a shirt and tie. I am no longer invited to weddings, to birthday parties, and even to funeral services. Most of the people whom I know have married off all their children, celebrated their parents' (and their own) sixtieth, nay seventieth birthday, and observed funerals of their parents. These formal occasions or ceremonies, in which I was supposed to attend in my full dress, once so frequent, are things of the past. I miss the good opportunity of dressing myself up. I am sad to see my new suits, white shirts and ties, are getting old in the chest unused and unworn. I am tired of wearing only casuals every day.
To spend some span of time in silence and loneliness is a must, an unavoidable as well as a painful process in one's life. You may think otherwise, but sooner or later you will come to terms with all the contumelious conditions imposed upon you by the omnipotent time. Fortunately I have gone through all the stages of life and come to the last phase of it safe and sound. I have travelled many great cities across the world, climbed high mountains and seen the wonderful views and descended. I have come home. The journey is ended. The time has come for me to be lonely. I must be satisfied.
Still, intermittently, however, the heart aches in me, whispers to me not to stop, and instigates me to continue and seek something out, but the feet question "how, what and where?" Reluctantly I decide to yield and go with the drift of things, and bow and accept the end of seasons and love. Now let the night be dark for me. Let the night be too dark for me to see into the future. Let what will be, be.
Lee Chang-kook is a professor emeritus of English at Chung-Ang University. Reach him at email@example.com.