Can I confess that I have started this post about 7 times. What comes after that sentence? How do I tell you how surprised I was to feel myself relax into a wonderful atmosphere of promise? The essence of expectation mixing pleasantly with the smells of sizzling beef, spicy kimchi, and simmering dokk kuk, the traditional New Year's soup of beef, dumplings, and rice cakes? How do I make you understand my aunt's cheerful beautiful laugh as she hobbles around her small apartment, serving everyone, making sure all the men have heaping bowls of food steaming in front of them? And I want you to see my cousin's smile, her whole face lighting up with generosity and kindness as she congratulates us on our marriage and looks forward to our ceremony.
Most of all, I want to share with you the joy I found in my small part of the day's ritual. I stood beside my husband, in all my hanbok glory, and bowed down before my grandmother and great aunt, touching my forehead to the floor. I repeated the greeting in Korean I had practiced countless times. I stood back up and watched as the rest of the family, couple by couple bowed before the eldest living members of the family. I felt some small thing shift inside me, some part of me honoring this way of seeing a new year unfold. Bowing before all that has come before, recognizing all the suffering and hardships that bow these two women so close to the ground, even when they're sitting upright. Honoring the past, the foundation for who my family has become in this year and who they will become in the year to come. I found beauty in kneeling before these strong, ancient women, wrinkled and more like children now than adults.
I filled my belly with good food, prepared by women with good hands and mighty reserves of patience and strength. I crunched through apples filled with sweet honey, a natural effect of stress. Those apples had been peeled by my mother-in-law, a woman whose stress has turned her insides sweet instead of bitter. I held out my hands and received money from my family, trying to remember to look at the giver instead of the gift. I consumed donuts with my cousins and exchanged jokes across languages. I sat in the floor, surrounded by my new family, and felt accepted and loved. I looked to my husband, who paid close attention to conversations, making me feel connected and a part of what was happening around me. He is my only link to the world of foreign words flying around my head at dizzying speeds. And he bears the weight of my inability to communicate, to understand, and sometimes to be present at all.
Today was a beautiful beginning for me. And tomorrow is another new beginning, marking the 26th year I've been breathing and sleeping and eating.
My wish for you is that you all find a place that feels like home, that feels like family.