Death, a great blessing in a way
When I went into the theater to watch the documentary film “Talking Architect,” my interest was on the buildings. Jung Ki-yong (1945-2011) always highlighted the harmony between nature and people, and I wanted to take a closer and vivid look at his artistic world. However, what captivated me was not the buildings, but the man. The architect was dying.
It was early 2010 when filmmaker Jeong Jae-eun began shooting Jung. He had been fighting colon cancer for five years and underwent surgery and chemotherapy. Then, the cancer spread to the liver and lungs, and he had to go through surgery again. Because of severe vocal problems, he had to carry a microphone to speak. Jung does not speak of pain, fear, frustration or powerlessness. He only becomes slower and thinner. One life disappeared gradually, and it was more miraculous than tragic.
He becomes so weak that he has a hard time walking. One day, he is riding in a car, watching the bright autumn sunshine out the window. As he looks at the glittering leaves, his whole face beams with pure joy. In his small, old rental house, he puts his feet on the sun-drenched floor. He says that his house is plush and he really likes it. Part of this life’s work was to build the “Library of Miracles” in six small cities. Children are free in these libraries, inside and out. They get to take off their shoes and socks and read books, lying down. They can play hide and seek. He has abandoned his perspective as an architect and began to look at things from the eyes of the children.
On March 5, 2011, he called the staff at his office, who had been working for him for decades. He was too weak to keep his head up, but he rode in an ambulance and went to the Acheon-dong forest in Gwangju, Gyeonggi. Surrounded by his close friends and family, he embraced the coming spring with his whole body. He whispered, “I thank the trees, the wind, the sky, the air and everyone and everything.” A week later, he passed away.
I have lost a number of loved ones to cancer. I always hoped that my end would be different. However, Jung’s last days taught me that enduring pain is also a part of life. He published six books while fighting cancer. He held exhibitions and gave his all remaining energy to say everything he had to say. Just as filmmaker Jeong recalls, Jung controlled his reality by “never thinking about death but accepting death at the same time.” Death is a great blessing in a way.
The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Lee Na-ree