Learning how to live with loss is an ongoing process and those rocks that I trip on crop up at the most unexpected times. I think I mentioned in passing that I am mentoring two international students from Korea this semester. It has been such an interesting, fulfilling experience, but things took a scary turn a few weeks ago when one of the girls had trouble breathing. She was hospitalized for pneumonia and is still there as I write this. Fortunately, her parents came here about a week ago and have been visiting her daily. My other mentee and I have gone to visit her a few times as well. Everyone has been concerned, though I am glad to say that she is gradually on her way back to good health.
Our most recent visit was a few days ago and happened to be the first time we ran into her parents. To be honest, meeting them made me slightly anxious. My mentee taught me how to properly greet them and explained to them that I don’t speak Korean. They don’t speak English, so our interaction largely consisted of exchanging smiles. There was an inherent kindness in their faces and I really just wanted to talk to them, to better know the minds behind those faces, but I couldn’t. Among my mentees and the parents, I felt distinctly like the ‘other’. I mean, they were all great and no one was trying to make me feel like an outsider, but the reality is that I am. Maybe I should have an ‘A’ like Hester Prynne, except that it stands for ‘Adopted’. Any stranger passing by would likely assume that we all share a language and culture.
And then there it is, that pang of loss. It’s like being stuck behind glass. I can see them, hear them, but my skin keeps hitting that hard barrier and I am not equipped to break cleanly through. I’m one of them, but I’m not. And then I think of my own Korean parents. Do they know any English? Maybe they know about as much as I know of Korean and that is not nearly enough. If we ever meet, how can we have a conversation? How can a translator possibly process the years lost between us? The emotions? Omoni, the woman who gave birth to me, whose face mine might be modeled off of, and I could not speak freely and easily to each other. There is something unjust about it.
Somewhere inside, I had a feeling ‘stuff’ would come up during my mentoring experience once I realized I had two Korean students. And I even had the foresight to remind myself that if it happens, it’s okay as long as I figure out how to handle it so that I can continue to meet my mentees’ needs. I just didn’t expect it to come up like this and never thought I would be meeting one of my mentees’ parents. We are so utterly foreign to each other. I don’t want to feel foreign to my own flesh and blood, but I am. We are. I still want to start my search this summer. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t scared about it. Even if we reunite, there will still be barriers to overcome. There is both a sadness and fear in me as to what could get lost in translation.