[VIEWPOINT]Great moments come in degrees

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[VIEWPOINT]Great moments come in degrees

I had a welcome visitor last night. My guest was Yong-ho, whom I had once taught at a night school attached to Sogang University. Yong-ho told me that he had been hired as a mechanic at a small garage in his hometown, but he didn't look very happy.

As a matter of fact, Yong-ho had wanted to become a priest. He didn't do well on his College Scholastic Ability Test last year, and he said the priest who oversaw his studies said it might not be wise for him to pursue the priesthood.

I gave Yong-ho a book, a small gift for consolation, writing on the title page: "Be a person who gives the world the gift of joy and happiness." He sighed and said, "I wanted to do something -- many things -- great, so to give joy and happiness to many people. That is why I wanted to become a priest..." I knew what he meant; how could a repairman do great things after all?

I was going to tell Yong-ho that a mechanic could do as well, or even better, than anyone else -- including a priest -- but I gave it a second thought. I didn't know how this poor young man, with his dream shattered, would take my advice. My thoughts drifted to Tony.

Tony was a security guard at a dormitory where I lived when I studied for my Ph.D. in Albany, New York. Tony had been a taxi driver for many years, and he told me about an old lady he picked up one Christmas Eve.

Tony was on the night shift, and around 4 a.m. he got a call for a ride. He drove to the address, and then rang the bell and stood at the door. After a few minutes, an old woman appeared. She was dressed like an actress from a 1940s movie. He saw that behind her all the furniture in her apartment was draped with white sheets.

Comfortably seated in the taxi, the old woman handed Tony an address on a piece of paper and asked him to drive to the place. She added that she wanted Tony to drive her through Albany's downtown.

"But, that would be the long way around, ma'am," Tony said. "Don't worry," she replied. "I've got plenty of time." After a pause, she continued, "Actually, I'm moving into a nursing home. I have no family now, and the doctor says I don't have long to live."

Tony saw a tear rolling down her sunken cheek. He silently turned off the taxi's meter. For the next two hours, they drove through the streets, empty on Christmas Eve, slowly passing the building where she once worked as an elevator girl, the ballroom where her first dance party had been held, and the neighborhood where she had lived with her husband as a newlywed.

Occasionally, she asked Tony to stop, and then she would stare into the dark for a long time. As the sun began to rise, she spoke in a hushed voice, "I'm tired now. Let's go." Tony drove her to her destination. When they arrived, the woman said, "You gave me the last joy and happiness I'll possibly have in life. Thank you. I was very happy tonight."

Tony got into his taxi and drove aimlessly for quite some time, thinking of the lady.

"What would have happened if I hadn't knocked on her door, and had simply left after honking the horn? What if somebody else had been on the night shift and had been curt to her?" Tony asked me. "When I look back to that Christmas Eve, I haven't done anything greater in my whole life. I wouldn't have been able to do so much for a person even if I was the president."

We all believe that our lives should be made up of great moments, and we wait for those moments to achieve all that we can do. Then we grieve and fret when those moments never materialize. However, we might not have even noticed that those great moments may have already come.

A great moment may be part of an ordinary day. A kind word, a helping hand, a small smile; all can be great moments. Such great moments come to everyone -- a president, a priest, a teacher and a repairman in a small town.


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The writer is an English literature professor at Sogang University.

by Chang Young-hee

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