The cruelty of separation

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The cruelty of separation

In five days, inter-Korean family reunions will take place at Mount Kumgang. The excited faces of the separated families are all over the media.

But whenever I hear the news of family reunions, I have more concerns than anticipation, more despair than joy. Covering the first reunion was traumatic for me.

The reunion was the first success of the inter-Korean summit, and I was thrilled to report on the reunion event held in South and North Korea on Aug. 15, 2000. At night, reporters visited the Olympic Parktel in Seoul, where South Korean families stayed, and knocked on doors for interviews. It may have been rude, but the families invited the reporters in gladly and told us about their family histories.

The time for reunion came, and I watched the eldest son from the North reuniting with his 87-year-old mother at COEX in Seoul. The 65-year-old son walked in and said, “Mom,” for the first time since they parted when he was 15. Families were crying and bowing. But something was amiss. The emotional moment was not so passionate. The families from the North repeatedly said, “Thanks to General Kim Jong-il…” Fifty years of separation may have deprived them of feelings. I felt conflicted.

After four days and three nights, the time came for the families from the North to return. The atmosphere had changed completely in a few days. Some were weeping and jumping up and down out of agony, and others followed the bus as far as they could. I could see the shoulders of the North Koreans shaking through the bus windows.

It was hard to watch mothers and sons part. Mathematician and former Kim Il Sung University Prof. Jo Ju-gyeong, 68, and his 88-year-old mother, Shin Jae-sun, had a hard time saying farewell. Shin had worked hard to support her son, then a student at Seoul National University. When the Korean War broke out, Jo went to war and suffered a gunshot wound.

He was treated in the North and became an acclaimed mathematician there. Shin had been praying for her son all along, and just like a dream, she met him again.

As her son bowed and said, “Mother, please stay healthy and live long,” she begged, “Please stay here and live with me.” But she had to say goodbye. Four years later, both mother and son passed away. A North Korean magazine reported Jo’s death and published his journal, which showed how he had missed his mother since the war. Forcibly separating families is the cruelest thing on Earth.

We must change. We need to meet more often and make sure the families that have united can maintain contact. We need to try our best to alleviate the pain of the separated families.

The author is the digital news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

JoongAng Ilbo, Oct. 15, Page 34

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