Celebrating centennial living
Living for almost a century is an occasion special enough for any person to commemorate, a time to gather together and enjoy the fruits of the family tree. It is a reason to assemble the extended family, friends and neighbors in one place.
Last month, my mother greeted her 99th birthday according to the Korean way of calculating age, 98th by Western calculations. This special birthday is called ``baeksu,” which translates as white or the whitened age of the double-nine. As she has 57 family members including, three sons and three daughters, 16 great-grandchildren, 14 of which live outside of Korea, and it has not been easy for them to get together at the same time and place.
However, 55 of them showed up at her birthday party. It was the largest family reunion since 1956 when my elder sister left home to study abroad.
My mother is just a few months short of becoming a centenarian and it has been the happiest and the saddest of times.
It was little wonder that she was the focus of attention even among bystanders at the Inter-Continental COEX Seoul Hotel, and also because her birthday luncheon was concurrently held with my sister’s 77th birthday celebration called ``heesu” (meaning the double-seven ``pleasant” age).
To highlight her important memories or achievements from the past century, myself and my five brothers and sisters agreed to publish two books on May 19, her birthday, in thoughtful appreciation of her.
One was a family anthology compiled of her own writings, some comments about her from neighbors and relatives, including her grandchildren, plus family pictures from the past and present. The other was a reproduction copy of 1,000 Chinese characters written in 1915 by my deceased maternal grandfather who taught his only daughter from it, using it as a reference text.
When planning the baeksu luncheon for my mother, I referred to the baeksu dinner at the Plaza Hotel on March 23 for my former boss who is a couple of months older than my mother.
I organized my mother’s event so that it would be simple, informal and full of personal relevance rather than mirroring celebrations held for male dignitaries who serve in key public posts. Apart from the congratulatory address and toasts, all parts of the program were performed by members of my extended family. So her son-in-law was the master of ceremony and her great grandchildren provided the main entertainment.
Because global life expectancy still falls far short of 100, becoming a centenarian is considered to be a blessing in many cultures.
The number of centenarians in the world is uncertain. As of October 2010, the United States had an estimated 70,490 followed by Japan (44,449) and Brazil (23,760).
My mother’s life, spanning a century and connected with 58 family members is like an ocean. She can see from where it comes, but can never where it ends. She is one woman on the planet approaching 100 for a moment.
So long as my mother can still barely hear, read, speak and walk, her 98-year-long life journey is certainly a milestone blessing.
The writer is a director of Samyang Tongsang in Seoul. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.