[Viewpoint]Promises keptA few days ago, an envelope was on my desk. I opened it to find a postal money order. It was for 75,000 won ($72.81). You might wonder what a postal money order is. It is a certified check issued by a post office that can be sent by standard mail. While rarely used in Seoul and other metropolitan cities, a postal money order often comes in handy in rural areas where people do not have easy access to cash and banks. I am also unfamiliar with postal money orders, so when I received it, I was initially puzzled. Who in the world would send me a postal money order?
I carefully reviewed the order and found out that it was from a man named Kim Jong-seon in Anseong, Gyeonggi. I searched my memory and remembered that I had sent him five copies of my book about two months ago.
One day, Mr. Kim sent me a letter on a piece of rough, inexpensive paper. He introduced himself as an old country man in his 70s. He was reading a book titled “Forest of the Humanities” at a bookstore in his town, and he had an urge to present the book to each of his four children and have them read it. He did not have enough money to purchase five copies at the time. So after a few days of hesitation, he dared to write me, the author of the book, a letter asking me to send five copies of the book.
Without hesitation, I bought five copies of my book and sent them to Mr. Kim. He had sent a copy of his family registry to provide me with information about himself and his four children. So I wrote a short comment on the inside of each copy for them.
Mr. Kim is a father of four children, two sons and two daughters. The eldest daughter is 42 years old, and the youngest son is 32.
To his grown-up children, I wrote, “When you are faced with a wall, do not give up. Instead, make a door and break through it.” To Mr. Kim, I wrote, “Desperation can give you amazing energy.”
After I sent the books, I forgot about Mr. Kim’s case.
In fact, Mr. Kim wrote in his letter that he would pay me back someday. He would have money after the harvest in the fall, or he would save by cutting down on his expenses. Frankly, I did not count on his words too much. I thought he was just saying it to be polite.
However, much to my surprise, I received a postal money order for 75,000 won, which is the amount for five copies of my book. Just as Mr. Kim promised, he saved the required money by living frugally. So after I first figured out where the money came from, I thought the honorable thing would be to send it back. Then, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that sending back the money would go against his wishes and would be an affront to his dignity.
Mr. Kim lives a humble life on a military pension, doing a little farming on the small parcel of land around his house as well as working as a janitor at local schools. Having served in the Navy for 30 years, the retired sergeant is still an honest and proud soldier.
So I changed my mind and decided not to cash the money order. I would cherish it as a keepsake for the rest of my life. It is small but precious evidence that there are still people who might be needy but are pure and honest at heart.
After I made up my mind to keep the money order forever, I sent copies of my new book to Mr. Kim and his children. Of course, a book is not food or money, but I truly believe that books will give them the power to face the harsh reality of the world.
Mr. Kim wanted to present this book to his children so much that he asked for my help. And he kept his word to pay me back and saved face in the process. The retired Navy man still lives with pride today. I will look at the money order for 75,000 won whenever the world is challenging and chaotic. The money order is worth a hundred times its face value for what it represents: Mr. Kim’s honest and dignified way of life.
*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Chung Jin-hong