You and Life Remain Beautiful

I love the rain.  Now, when I say that, there is still a little part of me that hates the rain, that hates having wet pants and wet socks, but I found myself standing at the crosswalk one morning on my way to work, in my new turquoise blue raincoat with my blue umbrella and my pants rolled up at the bottoms, waiting for the little green man to tell me that I could walk across the street, and thinking to myself, “I love the rain.”  Rain seems to send me into a pensive mood.  It is almost as if there are musings falling from the sky in individual droplets and creating puddles of ponderings.

Fall has arrived in all of its splendor.  There is a tree that I pass every day on my way to work and I’ve watched it through the seasons.  As the heavy air of summer gave way to an autumn chill, the leaves started to turn from a lush green to a vibrant red.  It began at the summit and filtered down like a drop of food-colouring that has been dropped into a glass of water and swirls around in billowy veins as osmosis occurs to turn the liquid into a single solid shade over time.  The leaves on that tree and on the others throughout the city have transfigured to create a symphony of oranges, reds, and yellows, and as the days pass by the edges of the leaves have begun to curl and the sidewalks are littered with the remnants of another cycle of the seasons, another year gone by.  Hearing the sound of leaves crunch under the tires of my bike or under my feet brings me no small amount of joy despite the fact that October has been a little rough.

I think disappointment has to be one of the most crushing and frustrating emotions, because disappointment kills a little piece of hope, and really, none of us do very well without hope.  Every movie that I watch, every story that I hear, every book that I read seems to essentially revolve around this same theme of hope: hope for a better future, hope for happiness, for success, for power, for justice, for love, for deliverance, for life.  Everyone puts hope in something, and when we realize that we can’t have what we hoped for, feelings of disappointment, often accompanied by an overwhelming sense of helplessness, well up and threaten to strangle us.  But the thing is, while most of the things that people put their hope in are uncertain, there is one thing of which we can be sure, one thing for which we hope of which we can be certain.  Movies get it wrong.  They often seem to say that the important thing is having something to hope for or hope in, that to maintain that sense of hope, to keep a faith in something will be enough.  But it’s not.  If that thing around which your hope is based is uncertain, eventually you will be faced with an insurmountable sense of disappointment, and believe me when I tell you that you don’t want that to happen.  While I’ve had to deal with small-scale disappointments in life, I am supremely satisfied to know that my ultimate hope rests in a God who cannot and will not fail me.

I’m learning about humility.  I’m learning to be wrong and even to admit it.  And in those moments I am acutely aware of the ground underneath my feet, of the physical reality of existence, of my microscopic significance in the realm of eternity.  Yet I am conscious of the life that is contained within each breath that I take, and of the grace of God that allows me to subsist, to carry on despite my inadequacy.

I feel most like a teacher in those moments when I get to staple things to the wall.  Maybe that sounds odd, but there is something about that motion of flipping open the stapler and pressing it against the wallpaper that brings me back to my own childhood and my own teachers filling up bulletin boards, and I feel like a real grown-up.  And I love being a grown-up, but sometimes I wonder what it would be like to be a kid again as I watch my kindergarten kids playing with whomever happens to be on the playground and making friends almost instantaneously.  It fascinates me to watch them feel and exhibit emotions so strongly and in sequence rather than in a medley.  It is remarkable that the simplest thing like a special snack can seemingly obliterate all the problems of the world, but something as trivial as a lost eraser can make it seem like armageddon is approaching.  I’ve learned so much about children and life from my time teaching in Korea.

My parents came to visit, and arrived at Incheon airport at some ungodly hour of the morning on Sunday, October 2nd and after clearing customs they took a bus to Cheongju where I met them at the bus station.  I dragged them to church despite the fact that their previous night had been spent on an airplane plagued by the insomnia that besets most travelers on red-eye flights.  As if that wasn’t enough, after church I ushered them onto a bus filled with thirty or so other congregants of my church to head off for a long-weekend trip to a camp near Muju Resort.  It was a fun weekend, and I was glad that my parents had the opportunity to be a part of my church community for a couple days, meet my friends, and see a little bit of Korea.  We took a gondola up a mountain and had a picnic on top.  We went “rafting” on a miniscule lake in floatation devices that lacked sufficient air, but had a great time racing around the “island” and generally enjoying the moment.  We had a bonfire and sang worship songs.  I saw the stars.  The remainder of my week with my parents included a walk around the Sangdang Fortress wall in Cheongju, a visit to the National Museum in Cheongju, and Korean barbeque with my coworkers.  My parents got to meet my kindergarten kids one morning and see where I work.  We spent an afternoon exploring shinae, and seeing many of the places that I frequent.  And of course, what visit to Cheongju would really be complete without a trip to our local Nepalese restaurant for some butter chicken and butter naan?  We spent a Saturday in Seoul visiting one of Korea’s largest museums, Insa-dong, Itaewan, Namdaemun market, and taking a tour of one of the palaces and the Secret Garden.  But to be honest, I felt as though all of Korea is the same, like every artifact in every museum looks exactly like another, like every temple or palace shared a swatch of paint, like every piece of history happened in some year I won’t remember with some people whose names I can’t pronounce, and like none of it was relevant to me.  Wandering around Seoul with my parents was reminiscent of wandering around countless European cities that sort of blend together in my childhood memories, and with my wanderings around a multiplicity of foreign cities that I’ve explored on my own since then.  Maybe it was that the approach of the day seemed to be as though Seoul was some place to be conquered, like Korea was a country to be ticked off on some checklist, like there was an urgency necessitating that we see everything of note in one day, but whether it was that or something else, I started to question my priorities, my ambitions, my rationales in my past, my present, and my future.  Was I trying to prove something with the number of stamps in my passport?  Was I tracking a sense of fulfillment around the globe?  Would seeing one more historical site really benefit me or others in any way?  Since being in Korea I’ve been submerged in a feeling of travel apathy.  When I moved here I thought that I’d take the opportunity to see Asia, but I’ve reached a point where I don’t care that much if I see any more of Asia.  I’ve reached a point where I’m left wondering if the money that I could spend roaming around the planet could really be spent more wisely in other ways.  Yes, I’m glad I’ve traveled.  Yes, I have enjoyed traveling and seeing new places and having new experiences, and meeting new people, and I believe that enjoyment in things is a gift from God.  Yes, I’ve had scores of spectacular experiences, and yes, I’ve learned an abundant amount of valuable life lessons along the way.  It’s not bad to travel, but I think that maybe it’s time to grow up and start making decisions about the future based on something other than an unattainable quest for seeing and experiencing everything, and the pursuit of personal gratification.  I want my priority in life to be allowing God to use me to make a difference in the lives of those around me whether that means going to other countries, or staying in my own.  I sort of feel as though I’m largely over the whole concept of travel for the sake of travel.  I’ve seen enough of the world to know that it’s all completely different, and that it’s all exactly the same, and if I never visit another country, I’ll be okay.  If I do, that’s great too, but I hope that my motivation isn’t entirely selfish.  And it’s not just travel can falls into this category of self-indulgence, but I’ve been thinking about what’s next, and why.  What kind of job do I want to have when I leave Korea and why?  Where do I want to live and why?  What will I spend my money on and why?  How do I spend my time and why?

I’ve been re-watching old episodes of How I Met Your Mother lately, and I think I like the show largely because it’s told in reverse.  I appreciate how Ted is telling a story in hindsight, how he provides insights from the future, and how he sees events with the clarity that comes from afterthought.  I like that it reminds me that I’m still in the middle of my story, and that when things don’t go the way I want them to, that years from now, when my kids are sitting on the couch and I’m telling them the story of my life, I’ll be able to look back on those moments that I don’t necessarily understand now, and I’ll be able to see them from a different perspective.  I’ll see my time in Korea in an entirely different light than I do while I’m here.  Now, I realize that it’s a sitcom and that one is not supposed to put too much stock in the plausibility of the show, but it gets to me more often than I care to admit.

Sometimes it needs to rain.  And sometimes I need to, as George Canyon sings it, “thank God for the hard times,” and realize that it is often through these that my character grows, that God makes me into more of the woman that He wants me to be.  It is in these moments that I see the beauty of what it means to have friends who love and support me and let me be weak when I need to be, to see the blessings that I’m surrounded with that I can take for granted in the sunshine.  I’m learning to sing in the rain, and “if you close your eyes and listen close, you can hear the chapter close”, but “you and life remain beautiful” (Relient K).

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