Sorry, thank you, and I love you
This year I became 65. I wonder whether it is due to the official designation as a senior citizen, or other physical evidence of slowing down, but I am definitely thinking a lot about the past 65 years.
I find in myself an urge to sort out what I have learned so far. Among my discoveries over the years is the appreciation I have developed for some common phrases I encounter every day: I am sorry, thank you and I love you.
I grew up never saying ``I love you,” and never hearing it either. I sensed that I was cherished by my parents through what they did for me, not through anything they said. Love was never put into words.
So when I came to America and became a mother, I did not know how to say ``I love you” to our two daughters. But I came to recognize the value of that custom. When Jeannie and Jane were in primary school, sometimes they would visit friends after school.
They knew they had to call me if there were any changes in their whereabouts. When they called we’d have a brief conversation. Without fail, they would end their phone calls with ``I love you, Mommy.”
I was slow and awkward in response. While I was thrilled to hear their affection expressed aloud in this way, I was not too good at returning the favor. However, over time, I adopted this practice and now I can say it every day.
I can also hug people without any hesitation. My sister in Korea the other day told me on the phone that she was feeling quite uncomfortable receiving my enthusiastic hug whenever I came to visit her in Seoul, but she too has learned to hug and now she misses it if her grandchildren skip it.
I mention practice of hugging here because this physical embracing is a great part of showing our affection. Another way of saying, ``I love you. You matter to me. I have nothing but good will towards you.”
During the 14 years that we lived in Hong Kong and Seoul before returning to the States, one thing I never could get used to was the way people carelessly bumped into me on the street, on subways and buses, and just hurrying on without saying anything.
I always wondered why the whole society seemed to think that it was no problem to brush roughly against someone and pass by as if nothing had happened. It seems so rude to treat people so indifferently and impersonally.
What does it take to say a simple ``I am sorry” or “excuse me”? It must be universally difficult for people to acknowledge their fault. Human beings are a naturally proud species. It takes careful training and cultivation to humble oneself to own up to one’s own mistakes.
I know one relative who has not spoken with her parents for years as a result of some hurtful words her parents carelessly uttered to their granddaughter long ago that led to more hurtful words to them. While I understand the wounds on both sides, I feel sorry for the years lost, and for the loss of the memories of three generations that might have been if apologies could have been made and reconciliation achieved.
These parents who felt wronged by their daughter are now in their late eighties. Do they want to die without mending fences? The American author Harriet Beecher Stowe shares this observation with us: ``The bitterest tears shed over graves are for words left unsaid and for deeds left undone.”
One of the most delightful things for me is to receive thank-you notes from our grandchildren. I can count on receiving them from Esmé (10) and Auden (5) after each birthday and Christmas because their mother, our daughter, will sit down at a desk with them to make sure they convey their gratitude to us. I cannot thank her enough for going through the trouble of training our grandkids in this worthwhile custom.
Of course growing up in Korea I’ve learned to be grateful for our parents’ sacrifices and our teachers’ hard work that has molded me, and for the ancestors who laid the foundation of our clan and the country that produced me. That concept was instilled in me solidly.
However, what I later learned was actually verbalizing ``thank you’s” in each situation and showing appreciation in a timely manner to the person to whom I owe thankfulness. This teaching came from my mother-in-law who was so good in expressing her appreciation. I wish I had been better at showing my gratitude for her kindness while she was alive. If she were with me now, she would hear earfuls.
So, my beloved readers, I say my piece now: I am sorry if my articles have sometimes not been up to par. Thank you so much for reading my column. I know the Korea Times as a newspaper cannot exist without you, and I myself as a columnist cannot exist without your readership.
So it is natural for me to say I love you, dear readers, however shallow my declaration may sound to you. I do have the best of wishes for each of your walk on this earth. Let’s not be shy in saying, I am sorry, I thank you, and I love you.
Hyon O'Brien is a former reference librarian now living in the United States. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.