The Chapter Wherein I Cross A River And Recover My Thanks Giving

Yesterday marked South Korea's Chuseok Holiday (akin to America's Thanksgiving albeit with decidedly less football and more rice cake). In celebration, the children came to school on Friday dressed to the nines in their jewel colored hanbok. I wanted to eat them. In a good way.

Teachers were also given lavish gifts to prepare us for the impoverished war torn winter months to come:

The 9 cans of SPAM even came with their own carrying case!

Many families make a great weekend exodus--north,south,east,west--to spend the holiday with the older generations: grandmas and grandpas, great aunts and great uncles. They pray, they bow, they eat, they watch Korean TV dramas. All the makings for a lovely celebration, I'd say.

In honor of Chuseok, I decided to stay put in Seoul and spend some time walking--across rivers and up mountains (as it's usually these kinds of places that compel me to remember/recover my sense of gratitude). On Friday night I took a two hour stroll along the Tancheon River that runs near my apartment. I love this river namely because it offers up gifts like cranes and big glossy fish that jump out of the water at dinner time and stone walkways every quarter of a mile that take you from one side of the river to the other.

As I began my walk, I noticed an old man and his daughter moving towards me. They had parallel appearances--both wearing long bodies and narrow faces. The man was crippled and walked with a severe limp, his right foot flopping out and in as if it were trying to escape his leg only to be reeled back with each step. They moved painfully slow--the father grasping onto his daughter for balance and the daughter holding him while simultaneously pushing his wheelchair. Traversing the smallest distance took a tremendous amount of effort for both of them. As we moved in closer, the woman looked up at me. For three seconds we looked at each other; in that brief moment I felt the kindness, the necessity, the generational pull of this daughter's charity towards her father. And when she smiled it felt like an invitation--as if she were welcoming me--a stranger--into this intimate space of unconditional love between her and her father. I felt overwhelmed. They passed, and I stood behind the staircase and cried.

An hour later, I parked myself on one of the walkway stones in the middle of the Tancheon and sat with, wrote about, and sorted through that experience. Why did I have such a strong emotional reaction? I finally came to the conclusion that witnessing that woman's act of charity (both to her father and me) revealed something about gratitude that I needed to recover--that to be grateful is to move slowly through your walking/waking life, to invite someone into your selfless moments, to allow your heart to leap and weep, to remember that it only takes life 3 seconds to remind you of her boundless generosity. This discovery felt good, and so I stood up from my rock, crossed the river and breathed out a hallelujah! for the restoration of my thanks giving.

Sitting on the walkway this summer