A life recorded for future generations
“While speaking with people at a funeral, I came to sympathize with the view that when an old man passes away, the history stored in his head disappears at the same time,” said Kim Ih-wook, explaining why he wrote an autobiography despite being an ordinary person who has lived a simple life.
He published his autobiography, titled “People I Have Met on the Winding Road of My Life,” in 2005 after retiring from 39 years of work. The book, which he presented to his family and friends, reflects on Kim’s small but precious hoard of memories of his family. In the memoir, Kim describes bittersweet moments from his early days, the time he bought his first house and saw the birth of his three sons, to his later life, when he buried his parents and then his wife.
His first son, Kim Kyung-jun, vice president of Deloitte Consulting Korea, was the person to persuade his reluctant father to put pen to paper. “Why don’t you let your young grandchildren know about how their grandfather has lived his life?” the son encouraged him.
Last January, Kim passed away at the age of 74. Now, the three brothers often read their father’s autobiography whenever they feel like reminiscing about him. On days such as Parents’ Day, they probably commune with their father’s spirit.
Nowadays, books describing the success stories of pop idols, talented students and successful investors are the best sellers on most bookstore shelves. Although the contents are becoming slightly more diverse, it is regrettable that we have no remarkable autobiographies telling the honest story of a life instead of peddling sensationalism or success.
The reason for writing autobiographies should be seen as an effort to pass one generation’s voice to the next generation, as such memories will only be buried in the sands of time.
Carnegie Mellon University professor Randy Pausch, who accepted the fact that he was dying in his 40s, delivered his last lecture and published his autobiography, motivated by his role as a parent. He pondered, “How can I teach my children the knowledge that takes more than 20 years to learn in a short time?”
He also hoped, “The bottle storing video clips and my autobiography will safely reach my children in the future.”
Korean people in their 70s are eyewitnesses to the country’s modern history. They survived the stormy eras of liberation, war and industrialization. They can write what they want as the first generation to receive modern education and can probably afford the cost of publishing a book, an expense equal to that of a 70th birthday party thanks to today’s improved publication technology.
I hope this generation of mothers and fathers who have endeavored to protect their families, will also protect their memories in words.
The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
By Kwon Seok-cheon [firstname.lastname@example.org]