[FORUM]Family ties and a friend’s loveI heard about the story a few days ago, when I visited the Venerable Seonghyeon at the Bogaksa temple with some friends; we were talking about karma relations. When the Venerable Seonghyeon said the karma between parents and children is stronger than that of a married couple, a participant added that he knew of a man who had served his friend’s mother until she died after his friend was killed in the Vietnam War.
In an age when it is difficult to serve one’s own parents, he supported his friend’s mother for 29 years! Out of wonder and curiosity, I visited the man in Bucheon, near Seoul. But the man, Kim Gon-jae, 62, shrugged at my admiration, saying, “My wife is great, not I. She served my friend’s mother hand and foot even though she had never met my friend.”
According to Mr. Kim, the karma between him and his friend Yoon Yeo-deok’s mother, Song Gi-sun, began when he lived next door to Mr. Yoon in Iksan, North Jeolla province, and went to the same middle and high school. They entered Chonbuk National University together as well. They were poor and had to deliver newspapers while managing to study, but they encouraged each other. Their friendship continued even after Mr. Yoon’s family moved to Seoul and he transferred to Korea University. Mr. Yoon visited his hometown to see Mr. Kim right before he left for Vietnam as an officer. Despite the war, they corresponded until Christmas of 1967. Two months after his last letter from Mr. Yoon, Mr. Kim received a letter from his friend’s sister with the shocking news that his friend had been killed in the war. He grieved over losing his best friend and could hardly eat for half a year.
His wife, Kim Chun-gyo, now 57, saved him from his sorrow. Concerned about her husband’s loss of health from sadness, she decided to visit Mr. Yoon’s mother even though she had never seen her. She didn’t know where to find her, and Mr. Kim hit upon the idea of leaving a message at Mr. Yoon’s grave in the national cemetery. Together with his wife and his mother, Mr. Kim visited the cemetery once every year for three years, each time leaving a note in a vase that he wished to get in touch with Mr. Yoon’s mother. Finally, he heard from his friend’s mother in 1971.
Mr. Kim asked Ms. Song to stay at his home for half a month at first and then visited her at her house in Anyang, near Seoul, every other month with his wife and children. For three years while Ms. Song was confined to bed after a stroke, they visited her every week to take care of her basic needs. Ms. Song depended on Mr. Kim’s wife rather than her own children whenever she wanted a taste of something special; his wife did not mind carrying pumpkin soup for her any time she asked. The distance betw-een Bucheon and Anyang was never far for the Kims. Mr. Kim is an only son and has three sisters. His father had died young, and Mr. Kim served his own mother and his friend’s mother with equal love and care until his mother died 14 years ago.
When Ms. Song passed away three years ago, the Kim couple served as chief mourners at her funeral. The 30 years they served her were enough to turn the couple into her lost second son and daughter-in-law, and a brother and a sister-in-law to her four sons and three daughters. Her children have discussed household matters with them and confided their troubles in life to them. Until now, Mr. Kim’s wife is the first to remember Ms. Song’s memorial anniversary.
This special love of an ordinary couple ― despite his modest circumstances as a low-level public official who advanced from Grade 9 to Grade 6 in the public service, Mr. Kim raised two sons and a daughter and also served his dead friend’s mother ― maks us wonder about modern children who try to pass familial responsibilities to their siblings. Celebrating Parents’ Day yesterday morning, I wondered what resolutions are being made today.
* The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Hong Eun-hee
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