Happy Birthday umma. Without you there would be no me.
I will try to read you this later when we birthday Skype, but I know I will have to paraphrase in lost Korean translation…
I learned from you how to laugh so hard my eyes disappear and my mouth hangs open, and to never hide my laughs. I learned from you how hard to fight for what and who matters most, and to never hide from a fight. I learned from you how to give and take in love, and to never hide my love.
I watched you eat all the imperfections standing alone in the kitchen, because you served only the most perfect food to guests in our home. I watched you put hot cups of coffee into the hands of the homeless sleeping under the awning of our fruit and vegetable store, because you’d once given money before and saw them go straight to the liquor store. Anyway. I watched your shell crumble bit by bit as appa got sicker and sicker, because you knew you were only a short time away from the day that would take him forever away.
Your love, yours and appa’s, is what gave me the confidence that puts me just where I am today, despite the fact that it means thousands of miles stand between us. Your love, yours and appa’s, is what instilled in me all throughout my life the ability to make my own decisions even if my own parents didn’t always agree with them. Your love, yours and appa’s, is rare and you were both lucky to have fallen in love and remained in love to appa’s dying day.
Appa adored you and everyone knew it. He never hid it, only fought for it, and his laughs at you and with you filled our home.
And so I understand why, that year after appa died, you tried to join him. We don’t talk out loud about it at all, but we do with our eyes and sighs, almost always. I can’t imagine having gone through the last few years of my life without you, because I know what it has been like without appa already.
And here we are now, so many years later, celebrating yet another of your birthdays. And by now, by Korean standards, you have been made whole again through a grandson and son-in-law to call your own. In your world, where things incapable of measurement are measured anyway (by some menacing invisible Korean ruler), you are in a much better place than you were the year after appa died.
But if I could do only just one more thing for you, it would be this…
To bring appa back. Even if only just to you.
Thank you Umma. Without you there would be no me. Happy Birthday to you.
~ ~ ~
When my father passed away I had to choose a photo to be displayed at his funeral. I chose this one, cropping it just so his smiling face could be seen. On the sea, with the love of his life, is where he loved to be..