shortcuts to sewol
april 2014: i was standing at the water fountain outside my 19th century literature class at korea university when one of my classmates told me what happened. ‘my heart feels heavy this morning,’ she said. ‘have you seen the news?’
i watched the news that night in the dorm room kitchen. i jotted down all the words i didn’t understand and looked them up in my korean english dictionary later. mostly though the video footage spoke for itself. there was a ship called the sewol ferry and it had sunk en route from incheon to jeju. the ferry was carrying 476 people. over the next while, i would sit in the kitchen and watch the news, flipping through my dictionary to see if the number rising in the right hand corner of the screen could mean anything other than a death toll.
the entire nation was in mourning. everywhere i went, there were yellow ribbons tied to lampposts, fences, trees, a symbol of solidarity for those who were grieving. i felt heavy and sad, but at the same time i didn’t really know how to feel. it was so terrible and tremendous that i didn’t know how to understand it, so maybe a part of me just became numb. if i thought about it too much, watched the news for too long, i would cry and feel helpless so i let myself forget, or at least remember from a distance.
april 2015: i was in a car with my sister and john and we were on our way to seattle. unnie turned around in the front seat and said, ‘it’s been a year since sewol and there are all these one-year-later documentaries coming out now about the families. i was watching them the other day. they’re really sad.’ she told me about the videos she watched and the articles she read and how things have been since the accident had happened and i sat in the backseat, remembering what i had never really forgotten.
that conversation stuck with me for a long time. i started to think about sewol a lot; i would think about the families and how they might be doing today, the survivors, the people that were lost to the sea (over 300, the majority of them high school students) and i would cry. it was a year late, but i felt like i was just starting to mourn.
in response to my feelings towards the sewol ferry, i decided to try and put my thoughts into a poem. it took me months to write this spoken word. this was for a few reasons:
1) i spent a day doing in-depth research and it left me a wreck. i was sitting at my computer, watching documentaries and scrolling through search engines, when i realized that i don’t know how to touch a grief so large. who am i to talk about this? i have nothing to say. everything i think i could possibly say feels wrong before i even say it. i thought about the hamster that i had when i was in high school (smoresy aka ham jam, rest in peace) and how i really loved her, but i was afraid to hold her because i thought i would crush her in my hands. that’s how i felt about sewol. i wanted to get close, but i was scared that if i did, i would end up breaking more than what had already been broken.
2) i am still recovering from procrastination-itis. so maybe starting a korean drama at this time wasn’t the best idea. (…that is ok).
the process of writing this spoken word was long and ended up reflecting a lot of my own personal encounters with grief. one day in august, i was sitting in a starbucks, journaling, and i wrote this:
i know i don’t understand their sorrow. i can’t say i’ve been through it and that i know because i haven’t and i don’t. but i care, so much it makes me cry, and here’s the thing. i can never speak for them. i can only say what i have to say and that is that i care and you are not alone.
i wrote this poem because i care about what happened and i wanted to respond in one of the few ways that i know how. so here it is, almost a year and a half after the accident. it is called shortcuts to sewol:
articles that i read that may be helpful to read:
a timeline of events (what happened)
the wall becomes the floor
it’s hard to be brave when you meet bodies in dark water
a sinking of human rights
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