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Commitment – 할아버지

I would always remember visiting my mother’s grandparents after church. I never really enjoyed going there because it was far away and there was nothing to do at their small apartment. Most of time when we visited, my 할아버지 (grandfather) would give me and my brother a piece of candy hoping this would melt away our concerns that we would not have much to do during the next few hours. They would be watching a Korean TV channel but I would always show up and turn it to a sports game or show in English that I preferred watching.

I never fully realized how difficult his life was at the time. My grandmother had suffered a stroke and he took it upon himself to take care of her. The right side of her body was of little use so every daily task was made infinitely harder. She couldn’t cut her own food, so everything needed to cut into bite-sized chunks. She could not move well on her own, so he would always help her use an exercise bike for 10 minutes just to get her blood moving. Whenever she needed a helping hand, she would cry out, “아버지, 아버지 (father, father).  Most of the time I saw them together he would sit next to her on her wheelchair and grasp her gnarled hand as they sat silently and peacefully together. My grandfather didn’t ever seem like his life was difficult or that he was struggling to get by each day. Without complaint, he got up each morning to take care of the person he loved so dearly.

My grandfather passed away around this time in the summer. He suffered a stroke and passed away quickly. It was a tough time for our family, especially my grandmother. Each night, she would cry out 아버지, 아버지 (father, father) only to realize he couldn’t be there anymore for her. I started learning that the beauty in their relationship was unseen and ineffable. I can’t seem to grasp that right now, but perhaps love can show me what better really is. My grandfather’s love showed me the importance of commitment and sacrifice.

I am not sure what commitment is, I am not even sure if I could ever make commitment. I tell myself that I will commit to studying hard during law school, which of course means writing garrulous and personal blog posts. I live in a culture that reminds me that there are always choices, in fact “better” choices. This is antithetical to the idea that I need to stay grounded, that “better” is not always better. I am not sure in my own life I can see this, but when I watched my grandfather I know that even when beauty fades, that charm is fleeting, that more things doesn’t equal more happiness. My mom would always tell me that he would always call my grandmother his “princess” whenever they did things together, whether he would wheel her outside to enjoy a nice sunny day or eat together the simple foods that he had made or bought.

My grandfather a simple man, taught me much about faith.

My faith tells me that in order for me to live, I need to “lay my life down for others”, that I need to “die to myself”. This paradox is not the way I view life. My needs are of first and fundamental importance to me. What I really need is to learn a thing or two about sacrifice.

My grandfather’s devotion has taught me much about sacrifice. His life was never his own, but he lived in service to my grandmother and showed me he could even give life through his dedication. They would pray together before each meal to a Father they believed held a deeper promise for them. Never once, did I see this man complain about the fact that his handicapped wife was a burden or chore, he loved her too deeply to even let such thoughts develop.  Some people say he was too nice, whether it was his willingness to pay for all of his friends he knew whenever he took the bus or whether he would smile even during the toughest of times.

This sort of positive thinking extended and showed me a different aspect of faith: a hope for redemption. Whenever he would bring my grandmother to exercise and she said she didn’t want to do it, he would always find a way to coax her into exercising, telling her “you’re going to get better”. Everyday he seemed convinced she would be able to walk. Any doctor could tell him this would not be possible, but of course why would anybody dare say otherwise? I might dare say he was thinking of redemption far greater than just that current situation.

There’s a promise of redemption that I have as well. That when I have days where I cry out, “Father, Father”, that I know even though my insecurities remind me of my greatest issues and failures, my faith tells me I am deeply cared for. I go through life wondering how I can go through the next day, I am reminded of a Father that tells me He is by my side, telling me to fight on. I see a picture where even though my body will soon fall apart and breakdown, the resurrection tells me, “things will get better”, that I will be able to walk again.

Perhaps my goal shouldn’t always be to seek out the “better” choices. No, “better” isn’t better. Better is love. Not the asinine and sappy love of the movies, young ones frolicking about with not a single worry. My grandfather showed me that love is white-haired and wrinkly, grasping a gnarled hand damaged by a stroke; a quiet and lasting commitment that beats out my fleeting thoughts on what is true love.

  1. John Hong
    August 30, 2010 at 5:33 pm

    Good stuff … thanks for sharing.

  2. koreahn
    October 1, 2010 at 8:53 am

    I must not have read this when you posted it a month ago. In two weeks, it’ll have been six years since my halmuni passed on. Lately, my mother and I have been talking a lot about my halmuni and halabuji (her parents) and I’m still learning how truly amazing they were, even getting emotional at one point. Thanks for this read because it made me think of how people of that generation seem to have known a little more about commitment, dedication, reflection, and boldness. And it also reminded me of my own grandparents. I wish they would have met each other 🙂

    In heaven, bro, we’ll introduce them.

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