I was just shy of turning 7 when I arrived at Kennedy Airport. My mom, 3 brothers and I were joining my dad who had already been here awhile. Do you remember being 7? Do you have a child around that age? My son is turning 6. As he gets nearer to the age I was at this important time in my life, I find myself reflecting...
We have a photo of our extended family, posing on the tarmac at Kimpo airport in Seoul. I don't actually remember the moment. It has been replaced in my mind by the photo. I do remember asking my grandmother to buy us red carnation corsages. And there we all are, in January, in our winter coats, with buttoneers. [Where did she find carnations in January in a third world country??]
I remember sitting next to my mom on the plane, the interminable rumbling noise of the jet engine. I remember getting one of my frequent knee aches, being comforted by my mom, being given medicine (Salon-pas.) The next image is the long corridor and fluorescent lights of Kennedy. A white American man in a military uniform offered to help my mom by carrying me. I remember looking at his face, this stranger, as he carried me, his stride shaking my vision, like the hand held camera of film verite. I remember scrutinizing his pink skin, his prominant, high-bridged nose, and the odor to him that was unfamiliar.
I don't remember the exact moment when we saw my dad. It had been 6 years when I was 1, when he himself left from Kimpo airport. I have a vague sense that when he saw me, he hugged me. I don't remember. This man, my "father." This man, whose picture we had on our wall. This man, who I was meeting, really, for the first time.
I look back at our family photos and I realize that year, my father was 38. My mother was 34. With 4 kids. Half-way around the world. A different language. Different customs.
Here I am, more than 10 years older than my mother was. I listen to my only child in the next room playing happily by himself. I am happy, in a home I love, in a country I love.
I think about what my parents did, and I am humbled.