A full expanse of mountainous Korean land stretched out before us with little hill-like graves embodying the terraced plot of land. Pine trees swayed in the wind as the setting sun’s rays warmed their thin needle-like leaves before the cool evening to come. A whiff of manure delivered by the benevolent wind directed our eyes toward the nearby cow farm at the foot of the mountain. We, my grandparents, parents, and my younger sister and I, all three generations, started down the gravelled road to see my great grandparents at the Young-nak Cemetery in Gyeonggi-do Namyangju. On my great grandparents’ tombstone, as they lay side by side, my great grandfather’s favorite hymn, “The Trusting Heart to Jesus Clings” was intricately engraved into the stone in Korean:
The trusting heart to Jesus clings,
Nor any ill forebodes,
But at the cross of Calv’ry, sings,
Praise God for lifted loads!
In that moment, my grandparents led us in graceful song in front of the grave as the dry grass rubbed against my ankles and summer ants bustled out and about the granite frame. I hoped that my great grandparents would be smiling to see us smiling together there at that time.
In Korea, many of the graves are a mound of grass. Often times, on the back of the headstone, the names of the individual’s closest family are written. When I peered at the back of my great grandparents’ tombstone however, I could not find my name; it was written in Chinese characters. As foreign as my own name was to me, so I had only a faint memory of these remarkable individuals that lay in front of me. So as different as I am from these individuals who had lived through many wars, hard times with little to no food, I am still a part of them as my name is a part of me regardless of the language it is in. My grandfather could speak three languages: Korean because that is where he was born, Chinese because he worked there, and Japanese because of their imperial rule over Korea from 1910 to 1945. I however, could speak English because I was born in the United States, Korean because my parents were from Korea, and rudimentary Spanish because I wanted to be able to speak it. Korean would have been our only tie of communication, but it was this small but sufficient tie which allowed me to sing such a sweet song at their mound on that warm summer day in remembrance of my great grandparents.
Coming to Korea reminded me of another part of my identity I forgot living so far away. It reminded me of people who, when left with nothing but ashes, rebuilt their nation, united their people, and preserved their beautiful land to serve as a reminder for the people it represents. As wide and as vast these tree-filled mountains were that surrounded us, it specifically reminded me of the people as sturdy and firm as my parents who were audacious to travel to a new land, my grandparents who were only children during the Korean War in 1950 but were exposed to the numerous hardships resulting from war, and my great grandparents who were more than strong enough to leave their homes and keep on living. Individuals like those in my family were the roots which built up the foundations of Korea and the foundation of my life. Therefore, even when one generation is passed, I also can have the roots strong enough to keep on living.
“The trusting heart to Jesus clings lyrics.” Eliza E Hewitt – The trusting heart to Jesus clings lyrics. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 July 2017.
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