[Viewpoint] A life lived with grit and grace

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[Viewpoint] A life lived with grit and grace

A funeral mass for Professor Chang Young-hee was held on May 13 at Sogang University. The mass was poignant and hushed, but the university president’s memorial address was stirring. “I want to call your name tenderly, like a younger sister. You have done hard work. Farewell.”

He was overwhelmed by sorrow and could not continue. He could no longer hold back his tears. The funeral was especially solemn. Professor Jang’s life was beautiful, and her brilliant writings reflect her life. Let’s look back on the life of the late English literature professor through some of her writings.

“As my mother was preparing rice cakes to celebrate my first birthday, I suffered a high fever and was stricken with polio. I could barely blink my eyes, and lay there without even crying.”

When Jang was young, her mother used to carry her on her back. When she grew older, she had to depend on a crutch to walk. She always lamented that she could not walk holding the hands of her beloved nephew.

“My sister saw a dress displayed in the shop window and insisted that she must try it on. I tried to go into the store with her, but the step was too high, so I stood outside, waiting for my sister. When the shop owner discovered me, her face changed. She said, ‘I have no change now. You should come back later.’ I did not understand her and stayed there. Soon, in a more aggressive tone, she said, ‘You are ruining my business. I told you to come back later!’ Then I realized that she had mistaken me for a beggar.” Professor Jang fought against social prejudice boldly.

“Well, who cares if people mistake me for a beggar asking for some change? The world is so noisy and troubled, but I am greatly blessed not to be tormented enough to throw myself into the river or set myself on fire. I have the luxury to stop walking and enjoy the buds on the trees and look up to the sky.”

But more ordeals awaited her. She was diagnosed with cancer three times. At first, she broke down.

“My pride was quite hurt at the time. I was furious that God chose me as the target of misfortune, and it felt unfair that I had to wage a battle I cannot win with my own will and effort. I hated those who would feel superior to me just because they are healthy; most of all, my pride was wounded when people sympathized with me.”

But she always got back on her feet with hope and love.

“I believe that God put me down to teach me how to stand up again,” she said.

“I was always nervous because I was in pain and the burden was too heavy. I thought the days of suffering would never end. But in the end, I lived each day faithfully and got over the illness. The power of patience and endurance will create even more beautiful miracles.”

While other people might consider her fate God’s curse, she called her life God’s blessing. She lived a life of miracles and left a message of love and hope.

In the last days of her struggle against cancer, she showed strong affection towards her life.

“I could see a faint spot on the ceiling in the dimly lit room. Suddenly, the stain seemed extremely friendly. Even a stain can be so friendly and beautiful in this world. I can hear the breathing of loved ones here, but I have to leave this world behind,” she said.

“Just as the power of hope can extend life, I believe that hope has great power to change fate. No matter what other people say, I raise my voice to speak of hope and wait for a new spring.”

The spring that Jang Young-hee had so ardently awaited has come, and those left behind are living life. As Chang put it, “As loved ones conclude their lives in this world, they leave behind their faith - the faith that the living ones will continue to love, live truthfully and bravely and understand and embrace one another… It is the part of those still left in this world to lead a life following such faith.”

*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Oh Byung-sang
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