Out of sight, out of mind?
By Hyon O'Brien
The other night, I had dinner with an old friend whose husband died two years ago. She told me that she has his portrait in her bedroom and for the past two years every single day, she has talked to him about her day as if he were there. This is how she copes with the intense sense of loss and acute pain of not having him around. In this case, we know that the old saying, ``out of sight, out of mind," doesn't apply here.
Now that I am scheduled to leave Korea for good at the end of October after five wonderfully rewarding years, I too wonder whether when I am out of sight, I will be out of the minds of many of my loving friends and family members whom I am leaving behind with sadness. How many of those will miss me as much as I will miss them? I also think of my own state of mind: because they will be out of sight, will Korea and Koreans just be out of my mind? Never! I know so from my initial departure 41 years ago as I think back on how closely I kept them in my heart.
Thomas Haynes Bayly (1797-1839), an English poet and dramatist in his poem ``Isle of Beauty" first coined the well-known phrase ``absence makes the heart grow fonder." This has a loaded meaning for me. I remember quite vividly my frame of mind as I was walking through a Japanese garden behind the East West Center of the University of Hawaii in January 1970. The beauty of that place did not register in my mind, because the only thing that my poor heart was able to do at that moment was long for Korea and my loved ones back in my home town of Wonju, Gangwon Province. My heart shut down to the amazing colors and shapes of the living things all around me, and all I could focus on was what was absent there. Many years later, when I revisited Oahu, I was amazed at its unique beauty. My healed soul was able to take in its true beauty.
Each time I read ``Heidi,” the well-known children's classic published in 1880 by Johanna Spyri, I can relate to her homesickness of her beloved grandpa and beautiful Alps mountain. The absence of those two made Heidi sick to the point of sleepwalking. Only when she was restored back to her dearest grandpa and the mountain did she become healthy again. In this case, the absence made her heart grow not fonder but physically ill, as if the sun and oxygen had been taken away from her.
What will I miss the most about Korea besides my beloved Korean the family and close friends?
I will be sad when I cannot see the buildings of Gyeongbok Palace, as well as the newly rebuilt Gwanghwamun gate, I will be longing for the Namdaemun and Dongdaemun markets, as well as my local Dongbu-Ichondong market where I go regularly to pick up some side dishes for a lazy meal. I will miss my kind Chinese medicine doctor, body scrubber known as Sister No. 6 at our neighborhood bath house, the delivery men who provide bowls of bibimbap and jjajangmyeon and groceries at a minute's notice, the amazing after service for everything, my walks with our two dogs along the Han River, chatting with our apartment's front desk staff and their daily cheerful greetings. I wonder how I will adjust to a life without my corner shop where a grandma sells me three different types of kimchi she makes at home.
There will be a void in my heart when I try to live without my special spiritual journey through my weekly Bible study and mentoring sessions. In my mind's eye, I will think about the underprivileged children I was blessed to be able to help by being involved with Friends of Love through the biennial house tours and annual bazaar. Twice a year, I will be reminiscing about the charity fund-raising activities I was able to host sponsor with two close friends for the North Korean TB patients that the Eugene Bell Foundation has helped since 1995. The homeless men at the Love All Nations Homeless shelter will come to my mind without fail.
So dear readers, you can guess how sad and heavy-hearted I am as I say for now adieu, goodbye, farewell and annyeong to Korea. But the good news is that I won't be saying goodbye to my readers, as I will be continuing this column from the States and look forward to sharing my thoughts with you.
I end this piece with words of Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861).
``My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight,
For the ends of Being and ideal Grace."
Hyon O'Brien, a former reference librarian in the United States, has returned to Korea after 32 years of living abroad. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.