If a picture paints a thousand words, then two pictures should paint two thousand. No amount of words, though, could ever cover the 37 years separating the day these two photos were taken.
That’s me, on the left, turning one year old in 1976. And Noah, on the right, just this past Thursday in 2013. We both look underwhelmed in our traditional Korean hanboks, though my photo is clearly dated in black and white.
Having celebrated Noah’s Dol and watched as he made his choice during the Doljabi, I asked my mother yesterday morning what I had chosen at my Doljabi. She had probably told me this once or twice before, but I’d forgotten. She confirmed that I had chosen the pencil. My passion for writing made that much more sense to me.
My mother then told me my younger brother had chosen a golf ball symbolizing athleticism. We laughed when she said this, because my brother is the furthest thing from an athlete. So as much as the Doljabi is supposed to be a “fortune teller”, it is more just for fun. Or it should be.
I noticed on Thursday when Noah was making up his mind, that most everyone in the room wanted him to grab the money. While no parent wishes for their child to grow up to be poor, I secretly hoped Noah would ignore the $100 bill sitting before him. Money is everywhere and nowhere at the same time far too often in this world.
Money is the reason, 37 years ago, that my parents left me in Korea. My parents had decided, upon my birth, to spend my first year together up until and including my Dol. My mother tells me that just days after my photo was taken, she and my father left for New York.
“To make money,” she puts it simply.
But it’s never that simple. Although money is what they needed to set up a future for me, it’s not what kept them in America. They sent for me a few years later, and wanted me to grow up in America, because they wanted me to dream bigger than I ever possibly could have in Korea at the time.
My mother says whenever she looks at this photo of me, she feels a weight on her chest because she’s reminded of how brutally painful it was to leave me behind. And how she could barely open her eyes each morning for weeks on end that summer of 1976, from the swelling caused by her crying for me. I look at Noah’s photo above, and I dry-heave from just imagining the same.
I don’t know if I could have done what my mother did, what my parents did, and I’m in awe of them for their strength in decision-making. Perhaps if this was 1976 and it was best for Noah, I could do the same. But here and now in 2013, I could not leave his side for any amount of money.