Korean Poet and the Wisdom of Nature

An 18th-century Korean poet wrote:

Mountains are same year-after-year but not rivers.

The waters flow nonstop, how could they be the same?

Time, too, flows like waters; never to return.

The New Year is upon us. I recently received a clean bill of health from my doctor, and though I am in the seventh Chinese zodiac calendar, I still have a sound mind, still dream that something exciting can happen at any given day, and still enjoy what I do, well, basically.

What’s new? I get cranky once in a while when people irritate me in their small ways, but what could I do about it? Carry a sign with me that says, “Handle me with care, for I am old and delicate”? It’s a tempting thought but not practical. However, unlike many old ladies I know, I don’t dye my hair or wear a wig to hide my gray head and don’t use Botox to hide my ever deepening facial wrinkles. I’m as natural as an old tree that stands tall, facing the broad horizon.

Some years ago, I hoped that I could live to be 75, because both of my parents passed away long before they reached 70 — mom at 59 and father at 67 — and I thought I could break the family record. But time flowed like water, and my 75th birthday is only 14 months away. How could it be possible? Lately, I find myself pleading with the Almighty, “Please ignore what I said earlier; don’t send me the Angel of Death in a hurry.”

Scientists say that older people lose many more brain cells daily than younger ones do no matter how careful they are with their diet or whether they are active. It’s no surprise that older people in general suffer low energy, memory loss, aches and pains, depression and anxiety, and more, and in severe cases, they live in long-term care facilities with Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s and heart-related problems. Even old people who had been successful in their younger years and were respected for their knowledge and expertise, with time, wither like common people and become victims of devastating illnesses. Thus, true “equality” exists among the aging.

But I’m not ready to surrender to aging symptoms without putting up a good fight. Didn’t Gen. Douglas MacArthur say, “In war, there is no substitute for victory”? I aim for victory, for I deserve it. I will defend my sound mind and my physical abilities at all cost!

I recently learned a few things about the brain — the central tower of your being. Your brain has a remarkable capacity to remember events of your life, even the events of your infancy. The good news is that your brain can heal old psychological wounds of the past when you choose to think positively about the world you live in today rather than dwell on the bitter memories of the past.

We all have wounds of the past whether we admit it or not. In the course of seven decades on earth, I’ve seen much and lived through difficult times, both as a child and an adult. What I regret most is that I was born at the tail end of Japanese occupation of Korea and was given a Japanese name at birth, Sadako Omura! Our tyrants’ intention for forcing their names on Koreans was to root out a Korean sense of identity as an independent people once and forever.

According to my mother, I was furious at birth, crying nonstop like an alarm clock. Obviously, I was protesting against my Japanese identity. But luckily, I was baptized in the Catholic Church and was given a French name, “Therese,” after St. Therese the Little Flower (1873 –1897) who died at age 24 and was canonized in 1925 by Pope Pius XI. By the two contrasting characters — the rebellious child detesting her Japanese identity and the child who perhaps longed to imitate the saint who considered herself a little wild flower at the foot of Jesus — I was able to save myself.

Today, we live in a highly industrialized world where multi-tasking is a common practice and computer science and technology control everything — media, politics, religion and our social network. People’s value systems changed with fast-forward modes, too. Everyone talks too much and too fast and moves too fast, also, without taking the time to listen to others or reflect on the contents of their conversations.

I originated in a culture where patience, elder respect, gratitude and benevolence were common virtues. I prefer to think that I’m a mountain that stays put timelessly and enjoys my surroundings rather than flowing fast like a stream without knowing my destiny.


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