Joy is as inevitable as pain, suffering
Many older Koreans often say, “If you write about my life, it will be a full-length novel.” That is especially true for those in their 60s and older who have lived through the Japanese occupation, Korean War and rapid economic development. Their lives must be full of ups and downs.
Even if it may not be novel material, we all have life-changing experiences. They may be a result of your choice, like going to college, or an unexpected accident or incident. In the movie “Before and After,” starring Meryl Streep and Liam Neeson, a happy middle-class family falls into discord, distrust and agony after their son commits involuntary manslaughter. Their daughter tells herself the family can never go back to the way it was.
Neil Armstrong, the first human to set foot on the moon who died Aug. 25, was a rare man who did not change after a life-changing experience. Twelve men have walked on the moon and eight of them are still alive. However, Armstrong’s life did not change. He had his first flight when he was 6 and got his pilot’s license before his driver’s license. He was an astronaut by nature. He participated in the Korean War and made 78 sorties, so he must have been faced with many critical moments. After returning from humanity’s first walk on the moon at age 38, he proclaimed that he had no plans to go back. He lived an ordinary life as a professor and corporate representative and avoided the public eye. He turned down political offers, and after 1994 he refused all requests for autographs because they could be exploited for large amounts of money at auctions.
Andrew Smith’s “Moondust: In Search of the Men Who Fell to Earth” and Takashi Tachibana’s “Return from Space” tell the stories of the astronauts and their philosophies and how their lives drastically changed after the experience. Buzz Aldrin, the second man to walk on the moon, was a devout Christian and he had held communion with wine and bread brought from Earth. But upon returning to Earth, he struggled with depression and received psychological treatment. James Irwin and Charles Duke were transformed into passionate Christian ministers.
As we live, we often run into changes, incidents and accidents regardless of our will. It is hard to maintain peace of mind during turbulent times. It would have been nice if Neil Armstrong shared a piece of his wisdom. But the ironic last scene of the movie “Before and After” may provide a certain comfort. We cannot completely get rid of happiness from life, just as we can’t drive away pain and suffering.
* The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Noh Jae-hyun