How amazing to think back one year. 10 months and 7 days, 310 days ago from now I had just arrived in Korea. To think how strange and unfamiliar everything was. All my senses were bombarded with sights, smells and sounds that were different. Wrong. One of the common feelings then was the feeling of loneliness. Loneliness surrounded by people, For an outgoing person begin unable to strike up a conversation with ease is a living nightmare. I was along. Alone and surrounded by many. Yet I stood out. I stood out as a novelty. I stood out as a curiosity. I stood out as a stranger. I was alone in a sea of constant chatter, unable to understand.
Understanding that a mountain is there even if the fog is covering it – Suraksan Mountain (수락산)
I think true loneliness is wedged between two people on a crowded bus and the chatter of people around you is nothing more then sounds you can’t comprehend.
How was I ever going to to build relationships with people when I couldn’t even speak or understand? My reasons and program was built around relationships, to connect with with my new community. Instead I was barred by the very thing I loved most. Words. The very thing relationships are built upon were hidden from me. Instead I had words to learned that were wrong. All wrong. One of my journal entries said.
“Language class was hard today. I feel like I am in a battle. There is so much to take in it physically hurts. My head hurts. My mouth hurts. My tongue hurts. Everything about the sounds and feelings in my mouth feel so wrong. My tongue fights every formation and every syllable, refusing to conform. It is large, lazy and useless in my mouth. My brain struggles to make sense of something it perceives as non sensical, utterly incomprehensible. Something that can never make sense. It doesn’t want to submit, to surrender and become dominated by another way of being. Though if I truly want to begin to understand and experience, I will have to let go of what I understand as right.”
On a trip with the pastor from my volunteer site
In the beginning all the sounds and words were foreign and indistinguishable for me. A common thought. ” How does X express Z when Y is missing!” I struggled to make sense of it it. Then something happened. Things started to changed. Slowly. There was a moment. (That I don’t remembered but I see the change so it must have happened.) A moment when I realized I needed to stop seeing and thinking and truing to understand in ways I already knew. I needed to stop trying to understand through English. Instead I needed to surrender to the foreign, the strange and lose a bit of myself in it. I needed to forget what I though and knew as the right way, stop seeking understand and instead just experiences it as it was.
Two of my friends. Our conversations are pretty haphazard but fun
The whole concept of surrendering yourself to God has never really sat well with me. I don’t want to be controlled on the whims of a being I can’t even see. That’s not what its about. Its about giving myself fully to the moment right now. Letting myself go and and wandering off the path. Its about getting lost but not seeking anything. Its about experiences but not always understanding, not being shackled to comprehension but surrendered to a timeless moment.
A view of a farm with Daejeon in the background.
Some of my closet Korean friends here speak little English. They will tell you they speak none but that is a lie. The process of becoming less then strangers and building relationships with them has been nothing short of magic. As I continued to learn, to practice and accept incomplete comprehension, out relationships grew. we began to understand each other. We gave into the unknown and allowed a language without words to from. We began to listen to each other. Listen to our expressions and actions made loud without the constant chatter. These moments held words, carefully chosen but completely expressed. pronunciation and grammar mistakes abounded and phone translators were our best friend. More then not most of what we communicated was lost to not understanding, but the effort remains. It built the walls of friendships. Each stone held together by a thoughtfully and carefully chosen word.
Some of the kids I work with writing animals in English and Korean
Language helps speed up relationship building and allows deeper faster, but it is not needed. Something its gets in the way. When we talk to much that we no longer listen. I learned in my moments without words how to listen. I think that where God is, in between our words. In the moment when understanding is still cloudy and foreign. In that space where you have to really listen and lose a bit of yourself to not understanding.
The west Coast, Its so foggy this month you can’t even tell where the water ends and the sky begins.
As the year progressed my langue conversations have grown as have my friendships. One of my memories is of sitting and talking with a friend on a train ride. I asked a complex (complex in that it had two verbs) question. It was after I understood the response that I fully realized I wasn’t using English. Most days I don’t understand. Its only the simple, slow conversations I can comprehend and can really only respond in even simpler. Its fun when I do understand, or make guesses and am right. Everyone including myself is surprised.
The night scape of Deajeon
One of the quotes that has stood out to me this year is by St. Augustus.
“Seek not to understand that you may believe, but believe that you my understand.”
In Korea I have to give up fully understanding everything. I had to give into the unknown, believe that it would work out and trust the process. I had to allow myself to let of of what was comfortable and right. I didn’t lose myself. I found another part of myself. I still lonely at times. That’s just part of life and being human. I do however feel like I am not longer a strange. Here we have become joined, our lives crossed for a time. Our moments shared. Together we are building a temple. A place of peace between us and around us. Building an understanding that peaces supported not to words alone but by simply being.
I think the point of living is to grow from one another. Its about getting lost together and experiencing the wonderments of life. To puzzel over them together. We will never fully understand it. After my year here, I’m not sure I want to.