A sense of community

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A sense of community

“There is no life jacket.” “Here, wear mine.” “Are the teachers all OK?” These words were some of the last shared among the students of Danwon High School who naively believed that help was on the way until the Sewol ferry completely sank. They were recorded on the phone of 17-year-old Park Soo-hyun, whose body was later recovered and the phone with it. Remarkably, the recording survived, and Park’s father released the final conversation among the teenagers trapped below deck to help “uncover the truth” behind the accident.

In what appears to be their last hour, our teens offered life jackets to one another and worried about their teachers. Their behavior brings a shamed flush to our faces when we think of the selfish adults involved in this tragedy: the captain and crew who were busy saving themselves without the least concern for the teenagers below deck and the authorities who stumbled time after time.

The mourning altars set up in memory of the victims also demonstrate that a sense of community remains strong among us. The line at the Ansan Olympic Memorial Hall where a temporary altar was set up stretched more than one kilometer (0.62 miles) even in the rain. One man with tearful eyes cried out, “I cannot sit comfortably at home as a father when I think of the students.” People became united in mourning after the tragedy.

The teachers, the students and the small number of crew members who lost their lives trying to save others tell us about the value of life and the sense of community. The two teachers - Nam Yoon-chul and Choi Hye-jeong - who looked after their students until their last breaths; Jeong Cha-woong, who yielded his life jacket to save a friend; and Park Jie-young, the part-time crew member who stayed behind to help the students, explaining to one of them, “The crew goes last.” The memory of these people’s selflessness breaks our hearts. They should be recognized as national heroes.

We must also remember the fishermen who first arrived at the sinking ferry and hundreds of anonymous volunteers helping the families and the rescue divers. They all remind us how compassionate our society can be.

We are all enraged, disappointed and heart-broken. We are devastated to discover how immature, disorganized and unskilled our country is when faced with a major disaster. At the same time, the accident proved how united and strong we can be. We cannot wallow in disappointment. If we don’t rebuild this nation on a safer foundation, the lost lives and our own tears will be in vain.

JoongAng Ilbo, April 29, Page 26

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