Guidance through life’s uncertainties

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Guidance through life’s uncertainties


“Moojin, too, has a special feature … and that’s fog. On the morning when we get out of bed and walk outside, we find ourselves encompassed by fog as if the enemy has sneaked in here overnight.” The excerpt comes from “Travels to Moojin,” an influential postwar novel by Kim Seung-ok, published in 1964.

In the book, Yoo Hi-joong, a busy executive, visits his hometown, Moojin, every time he feels he needs an exit from reality. As he shifts between Seoul and his hometown, he broods over the meaninglessness of life but nevertheless, at the end returns to his humdrum everyday life.

Moojin, meaning “foggy riverbank,” is an imagined place. The author has embodied life’s volatilities and uncertainties in a riverside home shrouded in fog. The symbolic use of fog is understandable, but what role does the riverbank play? The banks of a river are where people embark and end their travels. Such use of riverbanks in this country have been recorded since the Unified Silla Dynasty (A.D. 668 to 935) playing an important role in the transport of men and goods.

There is also a famous reference to a riverbank in anecdotes about Confucius. One day the great Chinese philosopher arrived at a place after a long, tiring journey around the mainland. Two hermits at work caught his eye, and the philosopher asked one of his followers to go over to them to seek directions to the river. The hermits asked who was asking and when the follower answered that it was Confucius, they answered: “If it is Confucius, he should know where the riverside is. Why ask us?”

What riverside was Confucius actually referring to? He may have been seeking an easier waterway for travel after an exhausting road trip. He could also have been searching for another answer, addressing his question to hermits, usually associated with wisdom.

Confucius, who has spent his life on the road to spread his philosophical teachings and wisdom, may have been in search of a guide to life, or directions to heal and salvage the world.

The right path is sometimes not easy to find. If you take the seemingly acceptable road, you may end up with desirable results. But a wrong path can take you to an unexpected surprise and failure.

Finding the right path is therefore very important in life. Standing on a riverbank covered in fog, you won’t be able to discern what’s out there. But that’s the form of life - engulfed by mysteries, precariousness and uncertainties. We therefore need a guide to lead us in the right direction.

In life’s journey as we veer from ignorance to understanding, a teacher has a special position.

Tomorrow we celebrate Teachers’ Day. Let us visit our life’s teachers and express our appreciation for sharing their wisdom and showing us the way.

The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

By Yoo Kwang-jong []
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