By Jinsil Byeon
In Tainan, China, there is a special highrise, especially for XuLuo, a 90-year-old woman. XuLuo visits the highrise everyday to meet her cousin and son. Her whole family is there, including her parents and sisters. XuLuo has her own room in the highrise, but she doesn't reside there yet. The highrise is not an apartment for the living. Instead, it is a columbarium for those in the afterlife.
XuLuo is preparing for her death day by day. She is a devout Buddhist. She chants and hand-copies sutras, believing it will give her meditative energy for her children. When she dies, she hopes her copy-books will be cremated and stored in the columbarium.
Watching the video of XuLuo, I was reminded of my grandfather, who loved calligraphy and reading Buddhist scriptures. I lost him four years ago. After he was declared brain dead, he finally passed away. I felt empty looking at the small, white pottery urn where his ashes were kept. The urn was buried in a national columbarium for the soldiers who fought in the Korean War. It was hard for me to accept his death, since he was such a loving grandfather.
In 1950, my grandfather was a 20 year old newlywed groom teaching English in a middle school of Busan. He was an affectionate son and husband, who loved his parents and wife. However, on June 25th, the Korean War broke out with the invasion of North Korea. Soon, the two Koreas began the huge battle. As the situation exacerbated, the North Korean army came down as far south as Busan. My grandfather eventually decided to fight in the war to protect his family and his country.
When he arrived at Gyeonggi-do, where he was sent, the situation was much worse than he anticipated. Everyday, hundreds of people died. People were shooting and killing without exactly knowing who they were attacking or the reason why. Soldiers of both countries attacked each other just because the other side was called the “enemy.” It was a tragedy that people who share the same ancestry, language, and blood were endlessly killing each other. The sorrowful and brutal situation on the battlefield came as an enormous shock to my grandfather.
However, more than anything, the hardest thing for him was that he could not be with his family. In the extreme situations of war, he could rarely hear from them. Except for the times when the letters were delivered, he always worried about the survival of his family. He felt alone in the world, fighting for his loved ones whose fates were unknown.
After 3 years of exhausting war, both countries agreed to a ceasefire. My grandfather finally came back to his hometown. Although he was debilitated both mentally and physically, he was hopeful of seeing his missed family. Fortunately, both his parents and his wife survived. However, he found out that one of his sisters was missing, and that she was lost during the evacuation.
The Korean War had a great impact on my grandfather. He learned that family is the most important thing in life. He tried to become an affectionate and benevolent father and grandfather. Whenever I went to visit him, he always welcomed me with a warm smile. When I was young, he took me to theaters and zoos. He told me many stories on summer nights. However, most of all, he always told me to love my family.
He became a devout Buddhist as well after the war. Whenever he found his mind unstable because of the memories of the war and his lost sister, he read the scriptures out loud. One of my vivid memories of my grandfather is him reading old, well-thumbed sculptures with his glasses on. He also enjoyed doing calligraphy to calm himself. I remember the smell of Chinese ink permeated in his room.
My affectionate grandfather was doing calligraphy as well when he was found limp in his chair, 4 years ago. He was diagnosed with a cerebral hemorrhage and fell into a coma. After a year, on a warm spring day, he finally passed away with his beloved family by his side.
These days, in many countries, including Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan, wars are being fought. They fight for religion, money, national power, or ideology. And with this in mind, I see that "war" creates an undeniable irony. Although the surface reasons for the wars may differ, the ultimate goal is to bring happiness to the people of that country. However, wars are not the best scheme to accomplish this goal. Lives and homes are ruined due to wars. The soldiers who fight at the front lines suffer from loneliness and the threat of death. The mothers who sent their sons to the battlefield can't know happiness or peace of mind even for even a brief moment. Many soldiers die out in the battlefield for happiness that they will not be able to enjoy. Although the war is over and a country has won what it wanted, many people still live their lives unhappily, devastated both physically and mentally.
Human lives are the most important value in the world. Therefore, we should seek ways to achieve happiness where human lives are never the sacrifice. We should try to solve problems through communication and compromise. We should try to understand each other and cooperate to find common ground. Peaceful agreements are be the best way to secure the real happiness for all. This is no secret, so why can't we make it a reality after all the trial and error?
In November of this year, there was an official reunion of families separated by the Korean War in Mt. Geumgang. The gap of 60 years was too big for them to recognize their lost families at the first sight. Their tears showed the suffering and grief they went through. The war gave them 60 years of pain and two days of bitter happiness.
Whenever I go to see my grandfather in the columbarium, lots of good memories of him continually wander in my head. Nevertheless, the most vivid memory I have is his warm, loving hug. My grandfather was the real teacher who taught me one of the most important lessons in my life: Always love your family.
XuLuo again goes to see her afterlife home waiting for her today. Although when she will move to her new home after death is uncertain, she looks relaxed and satisfied, comforted by these ritual surroundings. Looking at the already occupied homes of her family members, which are all around her, she prays devoutly. XuLuo, who has always loved her family, reminds me of my grandpa and the lessons he taught me. She has a light smile on her face. She might be the happiest person in the world right now, dreaming of spending her after-life with her family, happily ever after.