[Viewpoint] Sweat from the soulThe Pyochungbi, or the Monument of Loyalty, was erected in 1738 in Milyang, South Gyeongsang, during the 14th year of King Yeongjo’s reign. It was meant as a tribute to the Venerable Samyeong, the great Buddhist priest who commanded monk soldiers during Japan’s invasion of Korea in 1592. Samyeong made a great contribution by settling the disturbances of the war as an envoy to Japan.
The monument, generally known as the Venerable Samyeong Monument, is 3.9 meters (12.8 feet) tall, 97 centimeters wide and 70 centimeters deep. It’s said to perspire before and after major national events. In June 1950, people said it shed as much as 18 gallons of sweat, and soon enough, the Korean War broke out.
The Monument of Loyalty was also sweating in 1910 when the Japan-Korean Annexation Treaty was signed; in 1919 when the March 1st Independence Movement began; in 1945 when Korea was liberated from Japan’s colonial rule; in 1960 during the April 19 student protests; and in 1961 because of the military coup that May.
Scientists, naturally, are not impressed with theories that the monument perspires during these particular moments in history. Byun Hi-ryong, a professor of environmental atmospheric science at Pukyong National University, said the phenomenon is probably due to condensation when hot and humid air meets the cold surface of the monument to produce a dewy film. The monument is made of diabase rock, which gets cold easily. Experts say dew is more likely to be produced on diabase than other rocks when hot, because humid breezes blow.
However, those who have witnessed these events over a long period reject the scientists’ explanations. They say the monument remains dry even during the humid monsoon season and that it has never failed to respond physically to times of crisis in the nation. That’s why these people are convinced that the moisture on the Monument of Loyalty is the sweat of Venerable Samyeong’s loyal soul.
On June 23, doctors took a woman in coma, identified only as Kim, off life support in a landmark case of “death with dignity.” Apparently, when the artificial respirator was removed, Kim began to cry. Hospital officials said the tears were a conditioned reflex in her unconscious state, and did not involve her consciousness or emotions. However, the tears might have been the sweat of the old lady rebuking the court for the death with dignity decision, the hospital that is said to have worked to extend her life, and her family, who had worked to win the right for her to pass rather than remain indefinitely in a vegetative state.
Life is not something that can be defined with a legal measure or be replaced by a medical opinion. You cannot dispose of your own life at your discretion. Life is a struggle of the soul. Kim’s tears may have been the thick sweat of her soul, a sign that she is struggling to live on rather than an unconscious reflex.
No one can predict the course of a life. No one can dispose of a life from a struggling soul at will. The value of life is the value of the soul. If life has a weight, it is the weight of the soul’s struggle.
On June 25, President Lee Myung-bak visited the markets in Imun-dong, Dongdaemun District in the capital. He stopped by a fruit stand and donut shop, breaking into sweat on that warm day as he listened to the stories of small shop owners and working class citizens.
However, the sweat came from his body, not his soul. The physical sweat only leaves a salty taste when it cools down, but sweat from the soul gives off a special scent.
It is hard to meet anyone who is satisfied with the president’s performance. Lately, he has become the target of harsh criticism. However, it is not easy to find specific reasons why the president is so unpopular. Maybe, people are turning against him because they don’t find his soul very fragrant.
The president needs to reveal his struggling soul. He can talk about moderation and pragmatism all he likes, but the public will continue to shun him unless he proves he has a more moderate and pragmatic soul.
To do that, he needs to break into a thick sweat from his very soul.
*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Chung Jin-hong