An act of contrition

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An act of contrition


This year, I am preparing a special holiday party. This year-end party is just for myself. Having worked with people all year long, I want to wrap up the year alone. So I made sure not to make any appointments for the last week of December. And for the last couple of days, I have stayed at home and prepared for my year’s end.

The first chore is house cleaning. I need big boxes, and the rule is to throw stuff out or give away things I don’t need. It feels rejuvenating to go around the house and dump books, clothes, souvenirs and papers into the boxes.

Then I reorganize my computer folders. People often wonder how I manage all the documents spread around my desktop, and I always say, “I’ll organize them someday.” This is the day for reorganizing the computer folders. I create several folders for my new book, a rehabilitation project for the Philippines, UN meeting documents and personal photos. They will be saved in my computer and external hard drive. Just the thought of it is so refreshing.

Next up is reading my journal entries from the year. Reading two or three volumes of diaries reminds me of all the events, big and small, as well as feelings of pleasure, joy, suffering, pain, pride and regret. Reading my diary always make me emotional. I am thankful that the year was made possible thanks to help from so many people. At the same time, I can also think of a few people that I hurt or offended.

Lastly, I express my gratitude and send my apologies. I thank those who helped me, and apologize to those I have hurt. Also, I forgive the people who hurt me. This is the highlight of my year-end party, which allows me to wrap up the passing year and welcome a new year pleasantly.

Frankly, this is not very easy. It is easier for me to thank people, but making an apology is rather awkward, and I often send emails or text messages. But it is best to pluck up the courage and say it directly. When I call and say I was sorry, they often say, “About what?” or “It was not a big deal.” But sometimes there is a short pause. He or she must have been very hurt. But when I express my sincere apology, the person usually says at the end of the conversation, “Thanks for calling me. I feel better now.” Then I feel better, too. Even when I don’t feel I am at fault, I call people with whom I have an awkward relationship with and say, “Sorry about last time.” I almost always hear them say, “I was sorry, too.” It feels so satisfying, as if I’ve done something great.

Of course, not everything can be resolved over the phone. A few days ago, I saw a young hunchback boy. When he realized that I was staring at him, he avoided my glance and walked away. I didn’t mean to offend him. Actually, I feel so guilty whenever I see a hunchback.

It happened when I was in elementary school. There was a well in my house, and I was playing with a brother of a friend, about a year old at the time. I accidently dropped him, and he hit the ground very hard with a loud bang. He was a very happy boy, but he was so startled and in pain that he cried. I brought him to his mother and was about to tell her that I dropped him. But before I said it, the mother took the baby and soothed him. I returned home without explaining what happened that day.

Later that night, I couldn’t finish dinner because of my worries and asked my mother, “Mom, what happens if you drop a baby on concrete?”

My mother said, “If the spine is injured, the baby may become a hunchback. And hitting the head may cause brain damage. So you must be very careful when you play with Jung-mi’s brother.”

I was so scared, and whenever I saw the baby, I touched its back and checked the eyes for signs of becoming a hunchback or brain damage. Not long after the incident, Jung-mi’s family moved away and I never heard from them. Even today, when I see a hunchback, my heart starts to pound, wondering if Jung-mi’s brother may have become a hunchback. If so, I feel so sorry. There is no way of apologizing to them, but I am truly sorry.

In retrospect, there are many more people I feel sorry toward. To those that I hurt or offended knowingly, and to those whom I hurt despite my good intentions, I’d like to say I am really sorry.

As your “year-end special,” please forgive me.

Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff. JoongAng Ilbo, Dec. 27, Page 29


*The author is a visiting professor at Ewha Womans University and a relief activist.

by Han Bi-ya

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