In memory of late President Roh Moo-hyun
Though the late President Roh Moo-hyun is no longer with us, his followers and aides continue to be very active in the political sector. This includes Rep. Moon Jae-in, who has recently declared his presidential bid.
They are committed to realizing the dreams Roh dreamed of during his tenure as head of state but to no particular avail. Moon is now the leading presidential candidate of the main opposition Democratic United Party. He pledged efforts to become the president of ``our country” in which all people can participate, regardless of differences in wealth, age, gender and regional and school backgrounds.
Moon, who served as Roh’s chief of staff, was also one of his best friends. Given this, Moon is regarded almost as an ``avatar” of Roh, exhibiting a deep understating of his former boss’s sentiments and intellect.
Moon’s pledges remind us of the idealistic policies Roh pursued during his ``participatory government.” On the third anniversary of his tragic death on May 23, I came to think of Roh especially with regard to the grief he must have felt just before he decided to take his own life.
He left in my heart this humble yet perennial epitaph. ``I've had a very difficult time … Life and death is no more than a small part of nature's cycle. After cremating my body, scatter the ashes near my house and erect a small grave stone … This is my desire which I have long cherished."
This is part of his will left one hour before he threw himself from the top of Owl Cliff on Torch Hill near his house in 2009. Born into a humble family, the young Roh Moo-hyun experienced many difficulties during his schooling. As a human rights lawyer he also struggled for the great cause of social justice. These were difficulties that he had to overcome.
Another difficulty that dogged him when he was president was that he was incessantly harassed over his ``poor" schooling by the established mainstream with their shiny diplomas and by the conservative mass media. After graduating from a vocational secondary school he tackled the prestigious national bar examination. He passed it after making intense efforts.
William Wordsworth in his ode ``Intimations of Immortality" wrote, ``Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting." Roh Moo-hyun in a genuine sense lived in the philosophic realm. I think he had very good reasons to disdain the snobbery of the established order that looked down on him.
Roh refused to have a headstone erected in the solemn presidential grave section of the National Cemetery in southern Seoul. Rather, he chose to have one put near his house in his ancestral village. He seems to have mastered Lao Tzu's philosophy and Buddhist principles.
Let me offer here a verse I wrote immediately after hearing about the president's tragic death three years ago. It is an honor to share it with readers and all who miss him.
In Memoriam, to Roh Moo-hyun
Once being on the nation's throne
He befriended old hamlet folks.
He trod his fateful trail on that Morn,
Tending roadside flowers on his walks.
"Got a cigarette?" were the last words he said,
A Daejeon woman said in her void and upset,
"Gotta cigarette? I smoked for nothing all day."
A giant shadow lingers behind him against the gorgeous sunset.
In Thomas Gray the buried have a friend
Behind Roh Moo-hun followed millions of friends.
Is that owl on the wistful cliff his incarnation?
It'll watch the coming of a society full of compassion.
The flame of unification will flare up on Torch Hill.
Erect a small memorial with your good will
His remains free from insult to protect the millennium,
Rest in peace among the rustle of chrysanthemums.
We'll watch a "Great Stone Face" from afar on the Lion Rock,
The face of a great man who led a nation in deadlock.
In that country they called it Earnest, so good,
In this country we call it Roh Moo-hyun, for good.
The writer taught educational philosophy at Yonsei University. He is currently director of Korean Academy for Social Sciences on Vietnam. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.