Now, Seoul Incheon International Airport, Gate 27.
Another very large chunk of my heart for... oh you know, anyone on the worldwideweb :]
(I know I often stress that a lot of things I write shouldn’t be taken literally or too seriously, as they are seldom completely factual or personal. So I’d like to add this precursor- all of the following is very true, very real, and 100% me. So be kind, please?)
<<< A BIG REWIND <<<
10 to 15 or so years, to be vaguely exact.
I recall my miniature hands clamping together in preparation for my ritualistic bedtime prayer: “Please please please please pleeease.. Let us land safely.” You see, growing up, my family very rarely lived under the same roof. My dad (and his side of the family) worked and lived in Korea, and my mom (and hers), in LA. Naturally, we traveled back and forth. A lot. Which wasn’t pleasant considering my deathly fear of heights and flying and other things I didn’t like or understand. Nevermind the fact that, statistically speaking, over 5 million automobile accidents occur for every 20 in flying, yet we get into cars without a second thought. It’s futile to try and explain that to a 10 year old. My family was on the plane, as were all the objects I called “mine” at that point in life. Thus, my compulsive nightly recitation was born: “God. Let us land safely, always. Amen.”
>>> A BIG FAST-FORWARD, A LITTLE REWIND <
To this June, just a few months ago.
I’ve always been a feel-er. Sensitive, emotional, dramatic, crazy- sure, all that and more. I can tell you sob stories and love stories and everything in between, some categorized as both, and how all of these events have affected me far more than, I presume they would, the average human being. What can I say, I’m easily moved- by everything, good and bad. If our days could be rated on a scale of 1-10; 1 being the shittiest day in anyone’s lifetime, 10 being better than all the world’s birthday cakes and rainbows and butterflies combined, the most elated and divine you could ever possibly feel- I went from negative 17’s to infinity squared, in moments. I had no steady 5s. Neutrality, monotony, even boredom or stability were foreign concepts. People, places, the littlest things- they all left their marks on my heart. And I loved it. I embraced it, made it my identity. I am not a lot of great things, but I am open. My acceptance of the rawness in the world attracted the same rawness in those around me. People would come crying to me, looking for comfort. Grasping for me, searching for guidance. Running to me, to share news of joy. I was so happy to open up to people, not with great effort, but simply as a slave to my own nature, and in return, have them open up to me. I considered myself so blessed to be able to connect and share with the most vulnerable, and consequently, most beautiful and sacred, parts of the people I loved.
a series of unfortunate events, (several of which are obvious and need not to be re-stated, several more of which no one but myself knows of and would rather not disclose, but anyways-) in the beginning of the summer, left me completely emotionally paralyzed. Especially after graduation, after the hugs and congratulations simmered down, all I was left with was a clumsy bouquet of unanswered questions and a collection of hopeless “what if”s. I wasn’t sad, really. Not depressed. Far, far worse than that... I was anhedonic.
Anhedonia \an-hē-ˈdō-nē-ə\ (noun): the inability to experience pleasure from activities usually found enjoyable
What a dangerous affliction for someone like me. Everything I knew about myself, everything I felt, turned into white noise, smoke, a forgotten idea. Empty, evaporating, slipping through my fingers. And I didn’t feel like fighting for it. I didn’t really feel… anything.
And this is where it gets morbid.
I always kept the idea of death in the back of my mind, but during those months, every little thing nudged it closer to the forefronts. Not that I was seriously suicidal, and not that anyone will actually believe me, but I toyed with the thought with equal amounts curiosity and caution. Mental Russian roulette, if you will.
And then Martin Manley shot himself. I know suicide is, unfortunately, not uncommon, but what was unique about this man’s death is that, with it, he left a parting gift for the entire world. And what more appropriate gift in this century than.. a website. martinmanleylifeanddeath.com provides us insight on his life, and his thought process, along with actual physical process, that led him to his death. Under the “Why Suicide?” tab (yes, there are tabs), he explains that he “never liked the idea of living into decrepit old age and had long thought that ending (his) life before (he) became incapacitated sounded like a good option.” May he rest in peace.
I interpreted Manley’s reasoning, and conclusion, as his refusal to settle for a life less than what he considered “life” for himself. There is a point, (according to his attitude), where it’s “all downhill from here.” “Quitting while you’re ahead.” “Leaving on top.” “Peaking.” “Deterioration.” The idea that there is a finite and limited amount of good you can feel in a lifetime, or at least, before it starts to be outweighed by the bad and ugly.
For me, Bad and Ugly are not the enemies. I do not fear pain, nor scars, heartache, nor tears. What I fear is staying stagnant. And what I felt this summer, was mostly that. “Stuck.” I was unsatisfied with my life as it was, and didn’t see much hope in the near future. So I found myself strolling down Memory Lane a bit too often to be considered plain nostalgia. “I was once happy. I was once touched. I was once felt. I was, once. I was. Was.” And now… I’d lay in bed for hours, unable to sleep, not from sadness or anger, but simply trying to answer the question:
“Is this really all there is?”
Because I had no desire. Day in, day out, I’d go through the motions of my life without any purpose or inspiration. “Inspiration” connotes “want.” It ignites the desire do something, to have some kind of effect. I didn’t want anything. Or anyone. I constantly thought to myself, “All I want is to want something.” Even the things I once enjoyed with such zeal now held fleeting and hollow rewards. I was uninspired, unmotivated, and felt devastatingly underqualified to help anyone, let alone be a functioning, contributing member of society. I bathed in apathy and rinsed in boredom, with no appetite or lust, lacking intrinsic, organic stimulation. I was mentally handicapped. Plagued by emptiness, tormented by the cancerous empty space in my heart. The lack of feeling was all I felt,
and I was never more worried about myself.
A week ago, as I was waiting for my flight to take off, I did not pray for a safe landing. Of course I wasn’t actively hoping to die, but I couldn’t help myself from thinking that it wouldn’t be all that tragic. I had nothing to lose, anymore. If anything, it’d be convenient, even romantic. People would mourn over the “me” they remembered, not the pathetic shell I felt I was becoming. A spontaneous Martin Manley. I’ve always accepted tragedies in my life as a sort of Karmic punishment for the hurt I’ve burdened others with, and this would be the ultimate relief. For all of us. These days, I’d become too familiar with Sacrifice and developed an intimate relationship with Loss, and honestly, (this was a 12-hour flight = lots of thoughts) I didn’t think I would again be able to find any kind of emotional spark to remind me of something, anything, beyond that.
>> A LITTLE MORE FAST-FORWARD >>
To “this week.”
I have this bad habit of, during phases of sadness or heartbreak, assigning the role of “savior” to something. That one thing that’ll make it all better. Before, it was always people.
Self-concept is the organized structure of cognitions or thoughts that we have about ourselves. It includes the perceptions we have of our social identities and personal qualities, as well as our generalizations about the self, based on experience (Michener, DeLamater, and Myers 2004: 79). My self schema, everything I knew, was: how to love people, all people. So, as you can guess, loving and being with a significant other had for so long (since I was 15, without any gaps longer than a few months,) dominated a majority of my identity. I was always “somebody’s somebody.” But I’ve learned the dangers of making homes out of people. It can leave us both cold and homeless. And so, I’ve been patient. For over a year, I was dreadfully careful not to do that to anyone, to hold such unrealistic and unhealthy expectations for some poor guy to be my miracle. My friends would tell me how strong I am, for not diving into something out of desperation or loneliness, and instead waiting for a relationship of potential and substance. But I didn’t feel strong, I felt deprived. Exasperated. I felt ready to love, but didn’t feel it. I concluded that it was because I must be undeserving.
When I first considered taking a week off of life for a trip to Korea, an unthreatening and tranquil environment sounded ideal to recharge and inspire me, or give me a break from work, at least. But in all honestly, I just wanted to get out of San Diego. And along the same lines as my hypothetical superman boyfriend, I was careful not to lay those expectations on this trip. For it to be “that thing” that rescues me. But maybe because I had no expectations,
unexpectedly, I learned a lot this past week. Learned, re-learned, realized, remembered, a lot.
Of this “lot,” the most significant is simply: the importance of family. When society pokes fun at sexually promiscuous, attention seeking, drug addicted, or otherwise lost girls as having had “daddy issues,” I simultaneously cringe and laugh at the cruelty yet sort-of truth of it. Because I never really had a stable, traditional family, it’s strange to be in company of people who truly love me. More than that, who love me without even knowing me. Struggling to talk about my life in broken Korean, I don’t see confusion or indifference in my relatives’ eyes. I see unconditional acceptance, no matter what I’m talking about, in whatever language. It’s so bizarre. Because, 99.999% of the time I feel like I have to convince people of my worth. Like I have to give a list of reasons in order to reach and defend a basic level of acceptability or likability. Consequently, I end up suppressing, exaggerating, or even fabricating parts of my persona based on my audience. When people compliment me, “Wow, you’re __!” or “You are so __..” In my head, I think, “For you, I am. For you, I have to be.” So even when I was loved, even if it was a part of the real me, it felt contrived and conditional.
Being with my family was a reminder of not necessarily my skills and capabilities, but of my basic value as a human being. They don’t think “I love you because you can do A, B, C..” They think, “I love you, simply because you are.” Can you believe it? There are people who will love you even when you’re not moving a muscle. People who love you for your existence. That’s family.
I am loved. I am loved. I am love. Nice to meet you.
There is so much suffering the world. This past week, I was almost forced to play the wallflower and notice every detail of the people around me. I got to see their faces beneath the expression they feel required to wear in that particular moment and situation. I never liked to quantify or compare pain, because to me, ‘pain’ is similar to ‘happiness’ and ‘love’ in the way that it’s never yours to define for someone else. But I know you’re hurting, in one way or another, to some degree. As are our friends, family, acquaintances, and strangers. They are all feeling something you don’t quite know, but can probably relate to. Parallel to the idea of “six degrees of separation,” I believe in my own idea of “infinite degrees of emotional connection.” What you do can affect someone to inspire hundreds to touch thousands, and so on and on... The people in the world form such a delicate and intricate web of thought and feeling, it’s important for all of us to feel empowered by the fact that our littlest actions can cause vibrations across the globe.
We seldom notice pain. When we do, we say little, and act even less. My simple presence here has brought genuine happiness to people I haven’t talked to in years, and it overwhelms me with hope for how much I could do, if I were to actually harness my positive energy to pour onto them. I’ve looked back at old messages that people (whom I know in real life or not) have sent me, telling me that they appreciate my writing, or how I’ve helped them somehow with my stories. Before, my obsession with words stemmed from the notion that they were all I had to offer. I felt like I was “all talk.” But I’m learning to appreciate myself for the ways I do help, even if it’s just by clicking away at my keyboard. It may not amount to much, but I do what I can. I have good intentions, and I try very, very hard.
I know that starting to feel again is not an overnight change, nor an over-week one, and I’m 1000% sure I have many a nights ahead where I languish in bed unsure of why I’m alive or if I even am. But I suspect I will also have the days that make me unfearful of those nights. I’m an ardent believer of the mind. An advocate for nurturing and fostering your thoughts. There are countless stories of how ordinary people have performed extraordinary feats under extreme circumstances. 22 year old Lauren Kornacki summoned hulk-like strength to lift a BMW that was pinning her father down. As her community and the media painted her as a hero, she said “I don’t know what to do with all this attention.” Really, she was just a loving daughter with a rush of adrenaline. Wim “Iceman” Hof runs marathons north of the Arctic Circle in subzero temperatures, and when asked in an interview why he isn’t dead, he replied “I know my body. I know my mind. I know what I can do.” Actress Gabourey Sidibe told a reporter, “One day, I decided to be a beautiful person. “People always ask me, ‘You have so much confidence. Where did that come from?’ It came from me. One day I decided that I was beautiful, and so I carried out my life as if I was a beautiful girl … It doesn’t have anything to do with how the world perceives you. What matters is what you see.” The mind is so powerful. And I am recognizing that my own mind, heart, and soul, have been dormant, but not expended. I got stuck, but I’m still here.
> A LITTLE SKIP AHEAD >
To “tomorrow.” It is, after all, half a day ahead in this time zone.
Thank you- to you, first of all, for reading. For giving my words a purpose. For all for your kindness and support, your interest in my stories, and willingness to read them. Thank you- to my friends who’ve, on days when I forgot the sound of my own laughter, cracked me up til my stomach hurt, without a clue of the immeasurable hope your humor was to me. Thank you- to my family, for loving me wholly, without doubt or question, for no reason at all. Thank you- Seoul, Korea, for the most magical mirror, making me see the clearest me through recognition of parts of my heart on your streets.
I’m about to board now. I pray I’ll land safely, but if I were to die, whether it’s today or in 80 years, it’d be accepted. Before, as relief of my suffering. Now, in appreciation of the life I was able to live, and all my unrealized, yet very good, intentions. I have been so exceptionally blessed. I’m nothing but grateful for it all.
Last but not least,
Thank you- inevitable turbulence of Flight 204, for terrifying me- each goosebump on my skin and every shiver down my spine reminding me just how human I am, and how precious it all is.
I’ll see you soon.