The virtue of a busy life is that it allows one to forget, albeit only temporarily, one’s own mortality and the finite nature of one’s time. That forgetfulness can lead one to waste time in meaningless pursuits, and one may act as if one will live forever. However, for a person whose problem is precisely the acute awareness of an end approaching fast and the resultant pressure to accomplish much in the little time that remains, the illusion of timelessness caused by busyness can at least help him sleep better at night.
지난 시험을 취소하고 다시는 올것 같지 않던 다음 시험을 하루 앞두고 있다. 다행히 심히 초조하거나 긴장하지는 않고 있다. 평정심이라하기는 뭣하고, 그냥 무덤덤하다. 이번 학기동안 겪은 격한 감정변화를 아무렇지도 않게 뒤돌아보며 ‘뭣땜에 그랬을까’하는 생각마저든다. 인정하긴 싫어도, 나는 원래가 별것도 아닌 일에 질질짜고 징징대는 놈인가보다. 이렇게 약해 빠져서 앞으로 어떻게 큰 일을 할 수 있을까하는 걱정도 들지만, 그런것 치고 여기까지 버텨낸것에 스스로 장하다는 생각도 한편으론 든다.
엘셋을 하루 앞두고 있으니 다트머스에서의 시간이 거의 끝나간다는 것을 새삼 느낀다. 무엇 때문에 그렇게 힘들었을까. 그보다도, 무엇을 얻기 위해 그렇게 힘들게 버텼을까. 지난 4년이 내 인생에 더한게 뭐가 있을까. 그렇게 힘들게 싸우면서 또 잃은건 뭘까. 고등학교 때 처럼 “이제 더 큰 세상으로 나갈 준비가 됐다!”라는 확신을 가지고 이 곳을 떠날 수 있을까. 나중에 뒤돌아 볼 때 내 인생의 정말 아름답고 소중한 한 장(章)이었다고 회상할 수 있을까.
잘 모르겠다, 솔직히. 얻은게 많은것 같으면서도 구체적으로 집으라면 말하기 힘든 그런 시간이고 그런 곳이었다. 나이가 좀 들어 곱씹어 볼 때야 비로소 완벽히 이해할 수 있는 경험이었는지도. 지금은 그저 혼란스러울 뿐이다.
아무렇지도 않게 밤 10시에 서울성곽으로 발을 돌렸다. 굽이굽이 올라가는 산길에는 가로등 하나 켜져 있지 않았지만, 아랑곳하지 않고 이런 저런 얘기를 하며 올라갔다. 말바위에 도착해서는 유난히 차분해 보이는 서울 야경을 긴 시간 말 없이 내려다보았다. 그러다 또 얘기를 나눴다. 남들에게 쉽게 털어놓지 않는 그런 얘기들. 먼 이국 땅에서 외로움과 씨름하다 퓨즈가 나가듯 앞으로의 인생에 대한 기대감이 꺼져버린 얘기, 늘 싸우기만 하던 부모님이 어느 날 다같이 자살할지 어떻게든 살아볼지 11살 딸에게 선택하라 한 얘기 등. 사연 없는 사람 없다지만, 사람 사는 모양은 정말 가지각색인가보다. 그래서 이렇게 타인과 교감을 할 수 있다는 것 자체가 기적일지도. 교감의 순간 하나하나가 소중한 이유다.
하지만 이 순간들은 그저 추억이 되고, 이 사람들은 내 인생을 스쳤던 수많은 사람들 중 몇이 되어버릴 것이란 새삼스런 두려움을 떨쳐버리기란 쉽지 않다. 언제나 이렇게 현재를 공유할 것 같은데. 추억이 되어도 손 뻗으면 닿을 기억의 표면에 이 순간들이 영원히 머무를 것 같은데. 이 사람들도 이 순간들도 특별한 자극 없이는 꺼내보지도 않을 무의식의 서랍 속에 잠겨 나도 모르는 나의 일부가 되어갈 것이란 게 믿기지가 않는다.
N is a pimp-turned-activist. A jolly, convivial person by nature, he developed a strong liking for drinking, partying, and women as early as in high school. Years of debauchery got him thinking that he could and should make money out of it, and N started dipping his toes in Tokyo’s prostitution business for a few months. He was a mere broker with no influential contacts until one day, one of Tokyo’s more powerful yakuzas (gangster) recruited N for the simple reason that he was punctual, a quality that is rarely found in a business run by social (and therefore capitalistic) misfits. N’s job title was “manager” and his workplace the yakuza’s brothel, and accordingly his job description included more than just connecting prostitutes with clients. He was entrusted with the task of hiring and training new prostitutes, which involved teaching young rookies how to teasingly undress themselves and rouse the clients (for which he himself graciously played the role of the client), screening less-motivated job applicants by making them perform perverted sexual acts, and most importantly, encouraging these fresh recruits to consider their work as a necessary step to a promising career and not as a job they only reluctantly take for easy money.
By the time N spent a year in the business and trained countless women into dedicated prostitutes, the Great Tohoku Earthquake as it is known wrecked eastern Japan. N became curious what a post-tsunami wreckage looked like, and he traveled to Kesennuma at whim to see for himself. It turned out to be a life-changing experience. After witnessing how the disaster turned an entire city into a massive graveyard, N realized that his life’s mission was not only to aid in Kesennuma’s reconstruction, but also to transform it into a place that would be forever resilient from any future natural disaster. Since his first visit to Kesennuma, N has organized a nationwide volunteer network and attracted more than 8,000 sympathetic souls to this city in less than two years (a feat for which his managerial skills from his previous job helped immensely). Also, N is marketing Kesennuma as a city of romance, taking advantage of the fact that the Japanese word for “lover” was invented in this city. He believes that once Kesennuma replaces commercial fishing with tourism as its main industry, the economic consequences of future natural disasters would be much less devastating.
N says that before Kesennuma, he was a scum with no clear purpose in life. Now he is a responsible, dedicated, and charming member of the city of Kesennuma, whom local residents and visiting volunteers cherish alike. The only vestiges of his old self are the pain in his heart caused by years of irresponsible drinking and the stack of porn magazines hidden in his closet.
To work hard and achieve what you want is not just an admired way of life, but an imperative in a capitalist society.
The reason I have a hard time following this command is not because I lack the discipline to work hard, but because I don’t really want anything. Or, at least, the things I want I do not genuinely want. Wealth, honor, power, respect… well yeah, it would be nice to have these things. But I’m not moved by an insatiable urge to get as rich and powerful as possible. In fact, not a lot of things move me to desperate action. Hunger may be. Most other things I can just live without, as long as I have my loving family, means to support myself and my family, and a bit of free time to relax.
The way the society makes me feel bad about myself for not wanting enough is scary. When I am satisfied with what I have, the society thinks that I’m a complacent person who will soon lose my competitive edge. When I do not feel the need to be ambitious, the society thinks that I’m a loser who never had the guts to dream big. When I derive more joy from what I currently do and not from the dreams I fervently pursue, the society thinks I am a boring person from whom no enduring lessons can be drawn. The society exploits your insecurity and emptiness to convince you that you cannot be happy the way you are.
But I am. Although I see nothing wrong with pursuing what you want and achieving it, I don’t see a reasonable need to want things that I genuinely do not just because everyone else does. If happiness is what we are after, and not wanting anything is one way to get closer to it, it must also be a justifiable and admirable way of life.
Life went on in Kesennuma, a small port city located about 400 km northeast of Tokyo, as if nothing terrible ever happened. The old lady running a small sushi restaurant continued to offer her guests a convivial smile and politeness typical of the Japanese. A local salt producer, whose business relies on the traditional method of depositing and evaporating sea water in a stove to produce salt, joked about how sympathetic people sent him stacks of bamboo trees without knowing that they would explode in a stove. May be two years was enough time for the Kesennuma community to recover from the blow. Its members look content, if not outright cheerful.
On March 11th, 2011, an earthquake of magnitude 9.03 occurred near the coast of Japan and gave rise to a tsunami that soared as high as 40.5m and traveled as far as 10km inland. Last September, Japan’s National Police Agency confirmed that a total of 15,883 died, 6,143 were injured, and 2,681 went missing as a result of the disaster. It also destroyed or nearly destroyed 1,075,195 buildings. The earthquake is recorded as the most destructive natural disaster ever to occur in Japan and the fifth most powerful earthquake humanity has ever witnessed.
Numbers surprisingly don’t convey much, and I couldn’t comprehend the enormity of what had happened until I hiked up the city’s highest point for an overview of post-tsunami Kesennuma. There, I saw a vast emptiness in the place of a lively downtown with a rusty ship at the center. The Great Tohoku Earthquake of 2011 as it is known affected Kesennuma in the form of a tsunami that towered 10m high. It engulfed the port in an instant and swept everything in its path before coming to rest near the heart of the city. Half an hour was all it took to obliterate one half of the city. As if a hulking surge was not enough of an ordeal, the city was soon ablaze with wildfire that swallowed what little normalcy that remained in Kesennuma. Commercial fishing had been the city’s main industry for generations, and Kesennuma’s port had always been populated with boats of various size and shape. The raging tsunami carried and ripped them apart, causing a massive oil leak that took no time to spread to all corners of the city. Perhaps a factory exploded or an evacuating family left its gas valve unattended, but as soon as the leaking oil found its way into a source of fire, the entire city flared up and burned for four days. When the fire finally died down and the survivors could look around without suffocating from the smoke, all they could see was nothingness that stretched across a former bustling center of activity and a 330-ton ship at the center of it. The tsunami had carried this ship miles inland and left it behind when the surge returned to normal. Two years have passed, but the memories the ship evokes are still so painful that the city decided to remove it permanently just last month.
Yet the survivors have to deal with much more than just painful memories and psychological scars. The tsunami destroyed most means that the community relied on to support itself. Kesennuma’s chief industry had been processing bonito and swordfish. In fact, commercial fishing and associated industries accounted for 85% of local jobs. A significant portion of those jobs evaporated when entire fleets of fishing boats were reduced to mere scraps of junk. Some survivors were lucky enough to have resources to resume business as usual. But soon rumors spread that Kesennuma’s fish products were affected by radioactivity as the nearby Fukushima nuclear reactors were also damaged by the earthquake, and any hopes of the city’s fishing industry regaining its past stature were instantly killed. Non-fishing business suffered as well, because there were no functioning buildings left to accommodate them. Even now, most local businesses are housed in temporary plastic buildings, the kind you normally see at construction sites. The main customers of this struggling economy are volunteer workers who have come to aid in Kesennuma’s reconstruction. The most attractive tourist spots in the area are all tsunami-related: a tree bent by the tsunami whose resultant shape looks like that of a dragon; a high school behind a post-tsunami waste incinerator whose broken windows on the fourth floor are proof to how high the wave soared; and the Plaza Hotel’s salty hot spring that provides guests with a breathtaking view of a city now wiped off the map.
Two years was too short a time for the Kesennumans to move on and casually say that shit happened; the wounds were too fresh and too deep. Then how could they smile? How could they? How and why do they adopt a deceiving facade of a happy, well-functioning community? It took me a while to fully understand the apparent nonchalance and the more subtle happiness that now defines the face of Kesennuma. But then, it all made sense. What choice do they have in the wake of such a tragedy than to constantly reassure themselves, however unconvincingly, that all is well and life would get better? What else can they do if not find comfort in the very warmth they share among themselves and with strangers? They weren’t pretending, they were living their lives the only way they could live. It was heart wrenching even for me to walk past a graveyard where a seven-year-old girl was buried together with her grandparents, on top of whose tombs were placed several bottles of Calpis, a children’s popular beverage that apparently had been the girl’s favorite. I can only imagine what a living hell the past two years must have been to most residents here. And yet, Kesennuma is still a place where an old sushi chef is happy to converse with a Korean one-third his age through clumsy hand gestures and give handmade postcards with a nostalgic image of Kesennuma he himself drew, as a token of gratitude for visiting and listening to his story.
The humanity here is overwhelming. Thank you Kesennuma, and I wish you well.
(C) I want to be an artist (singer, writer, dancer, painter, etc.)
(D) I want to make the world a better place.
(E) I want to be a successful person, i.e. a person that earns enough money and is well-respected throughout society.
I feel like people have an idea of a “right” dream, as if all other dreams are somehow “wrong.” Not only in Korea, which is undoubtedly a very judgmental society, but also in the United States. If you’re asked this question and answer anything besides (E), then you will get the “oh, here’s another person who has no idea what the real world is like” face more often than not.
Since when did one’s dream become a barometer of one’s success-orientedness, and therefore of one’s fitness in a success-driven society? Since when did one’s dream become synonymous with lucrative career plan?
I was moving my body to music without any preconceived notion of how I should react to it. I wasn’t really dancing; or at least, I wasn’t trying to dance. I was just playing, experimenting with my body and expressing the music as I heard it. Then I noticed that my teacher was watching me with amusement. After some observation, he told me that my dance looked natural.
I do much better when I don’t try. Not that I’m a genius who excels without putting in the effort. I’m talking about my state of mind when I do something. I just do better when I am not self-conscious, whether it be dancing, singing, writing, flirting, or whatever. Once I try too hard, I thereby introduce an element of artificiality that interrupts the natural flow of things. I become awkward.
I guess this is what mastery is about: to be able to perform naturally and effortlessly at will. To be so immersed in one’s craft that one has no time even to be self-conscious. To become a child at play, who explores her surroundings and herself with intense curiosity and fun, when one chooses.
If mastery is what I think it is, man, it must be awesome to be a master of anything.
People see me holding a bundle of flowers, and they immediately think of me as a romantic lover who’s planning to surprise his loved one. A picturesque scene for them, perhaps. And I find myself giving in to their expectations and playing that role.
Playing that role? Am I not trying to surprise someone with those flowers? Am I not anticipating a happy, loving smile in return? Yes I am, but there is still a subtle divide between who I really am and who I appear to be. I cannot help but feel that the image of a romantic lover, the one we so often see in movies and with which people associate me, is just a facade I’m adopting, in part because the occasion demands, and in part because people expect me to.
But I am not that romantic lover. May be it’s the lack of the desperateness in me which precisely makes those images romantic. I don’t know. I’m just not the person people imagine me to be. I’m something else.
I’m trying to maintain that divide between who I am and who I appear to be, even while adopting the image of a romantic lover, because I know all too well that the moment you try to identify yourself with an image, the moment you try to deceive yourself and be an image that you’re actually not, the image immediately loses all vivacity and spontaneity. Only awkward, unnatural pretense remains.
But then I realize there might be an overlap between who you are and who you appear to be, albeit not in the way we expect them to overlap. The longer she fails to answer my calls and the more my surprise plan looks like it’s going to be unsuccessful, the more I become agitated and restless. Perhaps somewhere in that agitation lies hints of a romantic lover wanting to surprise his loved one with roses and violets?
I guess things are often just different from what we expect them to be.
Silent, deserted streets. Neon signs flickering afar. Cold and piercing wind that scalpels through my limbs. Occasional shrieks from drunk people.
The icy floor of a small, dusty corner. Lifeless buildings, dying stores. Expressionless mannequins, welcoming and yet repelling. Shutters down, all connections lost.
Passers-by are lost in a rerun of the presidential debate, which enfolds them in an illusion of togetherness-in-present. But apathy prevails, and they walk on towards nothingness, sick of pretending to care about something they just don’t.
A tragic beauty that stinks of humanness. All too human, all too human.
I asked my class of six 7th graders, five boys and one girl, to write an essay on the topic “what would you do if you had one day left to live?” I just wanted to see what was important in their lives.
Four of the five boys answered that they would first go to school and kill their teachers. Some chose to go further and finish off the teachers at their 학원s too (which includes me, by the way). All of them would go back home after the bloodbath, relax on their couches, and reward themselves for the hard day’s work by playing video games until their last moments. The other boy, not as angry as the others, listed 24 things he wanted to do during his last 24 hours. The list included visiting old friends and saying goodbyes, praying at his church, and of course bombing his 학원 and his school. The girl, apparently interpreting the topic to mean that someone would come and kill her on her last day, decided to spend as much time with her loved ones on the day before her last. After that, she would commit suicide before anyone has a chance to kill her.
These kids wrote their essays together, so I’m sure they did not end up with these berserk scenarios separately. And probably none of them would take his/her own essay seriously. Nonetheless, my first reaction to these essays was of course “what the fuck is wrong with these kids?” But no, after I learned how their parents drive them to multiple 학원s everyday even on weekends, how they’re exposed to cutthroat competition as early as in elementary school, how exhausted, jaded, and bored they are at their lives, and how their only joy and comfort is to lose themselves in violent video games and stupid tv shows, I realized I was asking the wrong question.
What the fuck is wrong with Korea? Whatever justification this society uses to force children into an “education” that drives out all the fun in learning and messes up their minds, there is something very wrong with it. What these kids go through now will probably determine how they shape Korea when they grow up, and honestly, things look pretty grim. Is a bit of air to breathe too much to ask for?
I’ve always wondered how people who live so passionately and energetically came to be like that. Whatever made them so, I concluded that I’m just not an energetic person to begin with. Of course such an understanding of myself was at odds with the occasional bursts of activity I had shown when doing something I like, such as playing soccer or dancing. So I am passionate but only occasionally, reserved (and defeated) most of the time? Something was weird, but I wasn’t able to pinpoint what.
Only today, in light of the recent changes in my thoughts about myself, did I venture to reach a different conclusion. Maybe I’ve been living in a way that does not suit me. Maybe I’ve been caging myself in a mold, holding back the better part of me. No matter how philosophically and spiritually justifiable (and commendable) the way I lived my life has been, it did not make me happy. And what good is it if I am not satisfied with my own life? What good is it to look irreproachable in the eyes of others, when the effort costs me my happiness? Maybe I’ve been trying too hard to justify my way of living to a vague “other,” when there was no need to go such lengths. And maybe, with a bit of change, I can also enjoy life and live passionately without being too burdened by duties and obligations.
No more holding back. If something costs you your smile, it’s probably not worth it. I shall free myself from all unnecessary burdens. I shall fly and reach for the stars.
The best way to stay away from heartbreaks is, obviously, to completely shut yourself. To never trust anyone, and to never show any vulnerable spots. No doubt, if you do not let anyone into the most tender part of your heart, you will not get hurt.
The more people I meet, however, the more convinced I become that a little bit of vulnerability is precisely what we need to form valuable connections. Yes, being vulnerable means that you are exposed and that someone can badly hurt you. But being isolated, on the other hand, means that there’s not even a chance for a redemptive relationship to form, for a wounded heart to be healed.
It’s sad to see people around me becoming like islands, detached from others and engaging in only superficial interactions. They’re too proud and afraid to be vulnerable. I do understand them; I had my own share of violent heartbreaks, some of them pretty recently too. But I’m still convinced that what a bruised soul needs is to open itself up and reach out to others more, not less.
“Another task that consistently leads to extended bouts of daydreaming is reading Tolstoy. In Schooler’s earlier work on mind-wandering, he gave subjects a boring passage from ‘War and Peace.’ The undergraduates began zoning out within seconds.”
Apparently you need to spend some energy to fall asleep. So if you don’t have even the minimal energy required to fall asleep, you can’t do what you dearly need to energize yourself.
I have a similar problem these days: I can’t read. Reading helps me face my loneliness and ultimately relieve it a bit. But to read, I have to shun all interaction and immerse myself in a world where others can’t reach; I have to step over that initial threshold of loneliness to make myself feel less lonely. And it seems like I can’t take even that much of loneliness.
Expectations can hurt. I subconsciously expected and consciously hoped to relieve my loneliness a bit. But there were only expectations and no realization. A wound was opened but left unclosed. And boy, it hurt a lot.
Philosophy is a study of human life, of what it means to be human. Naturally, philosophy confined to a corner in the library is lifeless and empty. True philosophy begins in the daily struggle to make ends meet, in the sorrows and joys of relationships, and in the ambitious attempt to meaninfully survive another day of meaningless existence.
The reason people are disturbed when they have done something wrong is not because their actions were indeed wrong. It’s because people are surprised that they are capable of doing something they consider wrong. They find something new, and horrible, about themselves, and the discovery shatters their self-understanding. They no longer know the person who has wronged; that sudden alienation from themselves throws them off and disturbs them.
"For let us not deceive ourselves: most of the minds we associate with are housed in heads that have little more to offer than overgrown potatoes, stuck on top of whining and tastelessly clad bodies and eking out a pathetic existence that does not even merit our pity."
"To fear death, gentlemen, is no other than to think oneself wise when one is not, to think one knows what one does not know. No one knows whether death my not be the greatest of all blessings for a man, yet men fear it as if they knew that it is the greatest of evils. And surely it is the most blameworthy ignorance to believe that one knows what one does not know"
다트머스에서 얻어가는 게 있다면, 아마도 내가 실패라고 두려워하던 게 진정 실패는 아니며 성공의 기준은 남의 것을 따라가는 것이 아니라 내 스스로가 찾아야 한다는 새삼스런 깨달음일 것이다. 어떤 위치에 있건, 인생은 지극히 개인적일 수 밖에 없다. 얼굴도 알지 못하는 사람들의 막연한 걱정과 고민들을 내 것인 양 살 필요도 없으며, 그래서도 안 된다. 내가 중요하다고 생각하는 가치들을 위해 중심은 꽉 잡되 융통성 있게 살아가는 게 진정 의미 있는 삶이다.
People often say that they want to make a difference in the world. Just that simple phrase makes them look big-hearted, philanthropic, and human. But I wonder what people mean exactly when they say they want to make a difference.
Do they simply mean that they want to change the world in some way? As long as they do something, they cannot not make a difference. However small and negligible the effects of one’s actions may be, they contribute something to the mass calculus of individual actions. In that sense, people always make some difference whatever they do. But I don’t think that’s what people mean when they say that magic phrase.
Do they mean that they want to make a world into a better place? But better in what way? For whom? They talk as if there’s a way to make the world into an objectively better place for everyone. But I doubt that. Most actions are double-edged, I think. Someone loses as a result of the action of another. If there is an action that makes things better without anyone losing out as a result, it is probably very rare and seldom effective in large scale.
Everything is so damn cliched, even the way we dream. People just say they want to make a difference without really thinking what that even means. If “making a difference in the world” means anything, it probably means “doing what one believes is the right thing to do”. And there’s no one “right thing”; it all depends on what you believe is right. So even to dream properly, you have to struggle to figure out what you think is important and right. It’s not enough to hide behind a vague notion of making a difference and feel smug about your big-heartedness.
"A person in motion always devises an aim for that motion. To be able to go a thousand versts he must imagine that something good awaits him at the end of those thousand versts. One must have the prospect of a promised land to have the strength to move."
“When an apple has ripened and falls, why does it fall? Because of its attraction to the earth, because its stalk withers, because it is dried by the sun, because it grows heavier, because the wind shakes it, or because the boy standing below wants to eat it?
Nothing is the cause. All this is only the coincidence of conditions in which all vital organic and elemental events occur. And the botanist who finds that the apple falls because the cellular tissue decays and so forth, is equally right with the child who stands under the tree and says the apple fell because he wanted to eat it and prayed for it. Equally right or wrong is he who says that Napoleon went to Moscow because he wanted to, and perished because Alexander desired his destruction, and he who says that an undermined hill weighing a million tons fell because the last labourer sruck it for the last time with his pickaxe. In historic events the so-called great men are labels giving names to events, and like labels they have but the smallest connection with the event itself.
Every act of theirs, which appears to them an act of their own will, is in a historical sense involuntary, and is related to the whole course of history and predestined from eternity”
이사하고 나서 뒷정리를 하지 않은듯 바닥엔 여기저기 쓰레기가 널려있다. 벽지는 군데군데 헤져있고, 흰 쇼파는 발자국과 갖은 떼로 얼룩져있다. 거실 대부분의 가구들이 버린건지 아직 쓰는건지 분간이 가지 않는다. 바닥에 깔았다기 보다는 아무렇게나 던져놨다는 표현이 어울리는 싸구려 카펫은 그 위에 가지런히 놓여진 자전거 2대와 부서진 의자, 주인없이 흐트러져 있는 우편물들과 부조화를 이룬다. 이 와중에 파란 커튼만은 흠 잡을데 없이 깨끗하고 또 제 구실을 다하고 있다. 그 커튼 넘어로 보이는 필라델피아의 새벽 거리는 버려진 도시의 일부분 같다.
하노버와는 너무나도 대조적인 필라델피아. 그 대조적인 모습을 축소한듯한 한 아파트. 새벽에 홀로 맡은 그 거실의 정취는 지극히 인간적이고 또 현실적이다.
"We do not deserve our place in the distribution of native endowments, any more than we deserve our initial starting point in society. That we deserve the superior character that enables us to make the effort to cultivate our abilities is also problematic; for such character depends in good part upon fortunate family and social circumstances in early life for which we can claim no credit."
- A Theory of Justice, John Rawls
May sound counterintuitive. But the more you think about Rawls’s idea on moral desert, the more you appreciate it.
이번 학기에 유난히 겸손해지는 경험을 많이한다. 칸트의 글을 숙제로 읽으면서, 나는 4번 읽어도 이해 못하는 내용을 누군가는 생각해서 글로 써냈다는 사실을 새삼 깨달을 때 겸손해진다. 물리의 역사를 공부할땐, 동시대의 물리 이론들은 물론 사람들의 세계관 자체를 바꿔버린 뉴턴과 아인슈타인의 천재성 앞에 또 겸손해진다. 굳이 이런 천재들과 비교하지 않아도 같은 반 친구가 나는 알아듣지도 못하는 질문을 던져 교수를 감탄시킬 때 또 겸손해진다. 어디 공부뿐이겠는가. 보스턴 춤 대회에서 쟁쟁한 춤꾼들에 비해 춤을 추는건지 간질 발작을 일으키는건지 스스로 헷갈릴 수준의 춤을 추는 내 자신을 발견할 때 또 눈물나게 겸손해진다.
내가 어떤 장점을 내밀던, 세상엔 나보다 뛰어난 사람이 셀 수 없을 정도로 많다. 노력으로 어느 수준까지 올라갈 수야 있겠지만, 아무리 발버둥을 쳐도 나보다 뛰어난 사람은 항상 있지 않을까? 공부든 춤이든 뭐든 남들과 비교하여 더 나아지려하는건 쓸데없는 힘낭비라는 새삼스런 생각을 해본다. 겸손하되 매순간 내 자신의 한계를 넓히려 노력하는게 진정 의미있는 태도가 아닐까.
"Our Gross National Product now is over 800 billion dollars a year. But that Gross National Product counts air pollution and cigarette advertising, and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage. It counts special locks for our doors and the jails for the people who break them. It counts the destruction of the redwood and the loss of our natural wonder in chaotic sprawl. It counts napalm and counts nuclear warheads and armored cars for the police to fight the riots in our cities. It counts… the television programs which glorify violence in order to sell toys to our children. Yet the Gross National Product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate, or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country. It measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile. And it can tell us everything about America except why we are proud to be Americans."
"And the reason motion seems to be indefinite is that one cannot place it as a potency of things or as a being-at-work. For neither the potency to be this-much nor the actively being this-much is necessarily a being-moved; so motion seems to be a certain being-at-work, but incomplete. The reason for this is that the potency, of which it is the [complete] being-at-work, is itself something incomplete. On account of this it is difficult to get hold of what it is. For one must place it as a deprivation, or a potency, or an unqualified being-at-work; but none of these seems admissable. There remains, then, the way stated, that it is a certain being-at-work, a being-at-work of such a kind as we have described, difficult to bring into focus, but possible to be."
Nervous, embarrassed, and yet excited like I never knew what excitement was before. My first popping jam (battle). I got crushed, but who cares? There is a beginning to everything, right? Who would’ve imagined a few years ago that one day I would be competing in a legit popping tournament?
Oh, the wonders of life. You never know where it’s leading you.
"Over coffee, as often happened, that special kind of ladies’ conversation was carried on, in which there was no logical connection at all, but which was evidently connected in some way, because it was carried on without a break."
어릴적엔 바다를 보면 마냥 설레였다. 저 바다 건너엔 뭐가 있을까 궁금해하며 온갖 상상을 다 했었다. 바다 건너 어디에선 까무잡잡한 피부의 청년이 흥얼거리며 나무에서 열대과일을 따고, 또 어디에선 내 또래 아이가 바다를 바라보며 나와 비슷한 꿈을 꾸고 있지 않을까. 이런 상상을 할때마다 내가 바다를 건너 여행하는 모습도 자주 그려보았다. 미지의 땅에서 온갖 사람들과 온갖 경험을 하며 모험하는 모습. 위험하고 힘든 일도 서슴없이 신나게 하는 모습. 또 그렇게 여행하면서 만나는 친구들과 멋진 우정, 사랑을 나누는 모습. 상상이 너무나도 달콤해서인지, 바다를 바라보며 상상을 할땐 항상 그런 멋진 모험을 하지 못하고 한국에 갇혀있는 내 자신의 처지가 한심하고 답답했다. 그럴때면 정말 미치도록 한국을 벗어나고 싶었다.
하지만 지금 바다를 바라보며 느끼는건 바다 건너에서 찾을 것들에 대한 기대가 아닌 그 반대편에 놓고 오는것들에 대한 향수다. 내가 자란 고향, 내가 다닌 학교들, 함께 커온 친구들, 그리고 사랑하는 가족들. 조금은 철이든걸까? 바다를 건너 여행하는 동안 시간은 나를 기다려주지 않음을, 그동안 내가 반대편에 놓고 오는 것들은 추억 속 모습을 벗어나거나 아예 없어져버린다는 것을 새삼 느낀다.
내 주위 모든 것이 빠르게 변하는 동안 내가 할 수 있는건 그 변화된 모습을 있는 그대로 받아들이는 것 뿐이다.
전주를 떠나 구례 화엄사에서 하룻밤을 보냈다. 현재 시각은 오전 4시 18분. 새벽 3시쯤 일어나 씻고 새벽 예불을 드렸다. 어제 그토록 나를 괴롭히던 고민과 잡생각들이 많이 없어졌다. 분명 화엄사를 떠나 다시 여행길에 오르면 고민과 걱정거리가 나를 물고 늘어지겠지만, 지금은 비교적 마음이 편하다.
언제 이렇게 욕심 많은 사람이 되었을까. 지난 1년간 나를 미친듯이 채찍질한 결과일까? 1년전의 나와 크게 달라진건 없지만, 그때만해도 이렇게 강박관념에 사로잡혀 있었던 것 같지는 않다. 글을 잘 써야한다는 강박관념, 춤을 잘춰야한다는 강박관념, 그리고 무엇보다 성공해야겠다는 강박관념 등. 최근들어 “그래, 못하면 좀 어때”라고 내 자신을 있는 그대로 받아들인적이 얼마 없었던 것 같다. 그런 흉내는 몇번 냈어도 말이다.
그래서 다트머스로 돌아가는게 살짝 걱정되기도 하다. 한국에서 쉬면서 많이 괜찮아지긴 했어도, 다트머스의 미치도록 바쁜 일상으로 돌아가면 또 다시 갖은 압박에 시달릴것 같아서다. 12월에 만신창이가 되어 한국에 돌아온것도 다트머스에서의 스트레스를 몸이 견디지 못했어서가 아니던가.
다트머스로 돌아가도 잊지 않았으면 좋겠다. 뭔가를 얻으려고 열중하는 것도 좋지만, 가끔은 얻은걸 내려놓는 것도 중요하다는 것. 결승선까지 미친듯이 뛰어가는게 꿈을 향한 가장 빠른 길이라고 생각하기 쉽지만, 결국 인생은 페이스 조절하면서 천천히 가는게 정답인 마라톤이라는 것. 그리고 결과보다는 과정에 충실하는게 인생을 재밌게 사는 법이라는 것.
전주 한옥마을을 쭉 걷고나서 전통 찻집에 앉아 글을 쓰고 있다. 찻집 내부가 상당히 어두워서 책읽기도 글쓰기도 불편하지만 아랑곳하지 않는다.
솔직히 전주 한옥마을이 그렇게 아름답거나 멋있는것 같지는 않다. 처음 들어서면 ‘아, 이런 곳도 있구나’하는 생각이야 들지만, 계속 걷다보면 다 거기서 거기다. 그나마 맘에 들었던건 오목대 위에 올라서서 한옥마을을 한눈에 내려다 볼 때 정도? 그 외엔 별 다른 감흥이 없다. 이번 여행의 첫 목적지라 기대를 많이해서인가보다.
전주 한옥마을을 걸으면서 가장 많이 본건 한옥이 아니라 커플들이다. 오늘이 무슨 날이라도 되는지 한옥마을에 커플들이 파리떼처럼 모여있었다. 그리고 한옥마을 곳곳에 산재해 있어 어딜가든 나타났다. 경기전에서는 커플들이 돌길을 막고 갖은 애정행각을 벌이고 있길래 돌길을 돌아가다 진흙탕에 발이 빠졌다. 전통놀이 코너에서는 생각에 빠져 걸어가다가 커플들이 히히덕대며 던진 투호에 맞을뻔 했다. 오목대 올라가는 길에는 어떤 덩치좋은 여자가 힘들다며 콧소리 섞어가며 앙탈 부리는걸 간신히 발로 차지 않고 올라갔다.
참… 평소엔 커플들 별로 신경쓰지 않는 나이지만, 오늘따라 거슬렸다. 아쉬울 따름이다. 전주 한옥마을까지 와서 글로 쓸만한게 커플들의 행태뿐이라는게. 내가 문젠지 한옥마을이 문젠지는 모르겠지만 말이다.
"한 여학생을 짝사랑하는 순진한 남학생이 있었대. 별명이 낙수장이었어. 낙수장이 매일 학교에 가서 하는 일이 그 여학생을 찾으러 다니는 일이었어. 정작 다가가서 말 한마디 붙여보지도 못하면서 말야. 그 여학생이 다른 남학생이랑 열애중이었거든. 상황이 그래도 여학생을 향한 마음을 주체할 수 없었던 낙수장은 그 여학생을 늘 먼발치서 지켜봤어. 그러던 어느 날, 그 여학생이 남학생과 함께 도서관 앞의 잔디밭에 앉아 있는 걸 봤지. 두 사람 사이에 무슨 일이 있었는지 남학생이 여학생을 혼자 두고 가버렸어. 여학생이 혼자 남아 어깨를 축 늘어뜨리고 울고 있었지. 낙수장의 가슴이 너무 아팠어. 사랑하는 여자가 어깨를 축 늘어뜨리고 울고 있는데 가슴 안 아플 놈은 없거든. 낙수장은 용기를 내서 여학생을 위로해주기로 마음먹었어. 그때껏 제대로 말 한번 붙여보지 못한 낙수장은 일단 ‘축 처진 네 어깨를 보니 내 가슴이 아프다…..’고 말해야지 생각하며 속으로 수없이 연습을 했어. 이 정도면 됐다, 싶었을 때 드디어 여학생 앞으로 나아갔어. 울고 있던 여학생이 무슨 일예요? 쏴붙이며 낙수장을 뻔히 쳐다봤지. 낙수장이 얼른 대답한다고 한 말이 이랬어. 축 처진 네 가슴을 보니 내 어깨가 아프다…."
학원 끝나고 집에 가는 버스 안에서 문득 생각이 들었다. 내가 앞으로 한국에서 보낼 시간이 얼마나 될까? 현재 계획대로라면, 학부 마치고 군대를 다녀와서 대학원 갔다가 미국에서 취직할 것이다. 군대에 있는 동안엔 물론 한국에 있겠지만, 그게 어디 자유의 몸으로 한국에 있는거랑 같은가. 그리고 미국에서 취직하면 꽤 오랫동안 미국에 머물지 않을까? 대략적인 계산을 해보니 앞으로 한국에서 보낼 시간이 정말 적었다.
뭔가 아쉬웠다. 한국은 내가 태어나고 자란 곳인데, 정작 내가 한국에 대해 제대로 알고 있는것은 얼마 없었다. 한국의 금수강산을 둘러본 것도 남들 수학여행으로 다 가는 경주나 설악산 가본게 전부이다. 앞일은 그 누구도 모르는 것이지만, 만에 하나 미국에 정착해서 오래도록 한국에 돌아오지 못한다면 한국에 대해 더 알려하지 않았던걸 두고두고 후회할 거란 생각이 들었다.
그래서 결심했다. 혼자 기차여행 한번 가보기로. 내가 태어나서 자란 땅이 얼마나 멋지고 아름다운지, 그 누구 앞에 내놔도 자랑스럽다는 것을 기억 구석구석에 새겨 놓고 싶었다. 게다가 혼자 여행하면서 배우는 것도 많을 것이고, 나중에 이국 땅에서 고생할 때 조금이나마 용기를 북돋아줄 추억을 만들 수 있을거란 생각이 들었다.
혼자 떠나는 여행이 처음은 아니지만 매번 설레인다. 무엇을 보고, 무엇을 경험할까. 어떤 풍경들을 보고, 또 어떤 사람들을 만날까. 그러면서 또 어떤 교훈들을 얻을까. 무엇을 향해 나아가는지는 알 수 없지만, 나이 들어 돌아봤을 때 아련한 추억으로 남을 이번 여행의 첫걸음을 디딘다.
애초부터 대단한건 기대하지 않았지만, 약간은 이국적인 풍경을 볼 수 있을까해서 와보았다. 최소한 “아, 무슬림들은 이런 식으로 살겠구나”하는 느낌이라도 받을 수 있나하고 말이다. 하지만 한남동 이슬람 거리를 걸으며 내가 본건 낯선 문화와 생활 방식이 아닌, 외국인들이 먼 이국땅에서 생활고에 찌들어 살아가는 모습이었다. 이 거리를 걸으며 내 자신이 이방인으로 느껴지는 이유는 간판에 쓰여진 낯선 언어나 푸른 빛의 이슬람 중앙 성원 때문이 아니었다. 빨지 않고 오랫동안 입어 누렇게 떠버린 이 곳 사람들의 옷차림과는 너무나 대조적으로 번지르르한 내 옷차림 때문이었다.
이 사람들은 무엇 때문에 먼 타지에서 이토록 고생을 하며 살아가는 걸까? 집에 있는 가족들을 먹여 살리기 위해서? 이렇게 고생하면서 먹여 살리는 가족은 일년에 몇번이나 볼 수 있을까? 이 사람들은 가족들과 함께하는 생활마저 포기해야했던걸까. 꿈이나 삶의 의미 같이 남들한테는 당연하게 여겨지는 것들도 경제적 뒷받침 없이는 그저 사치일 뿐이라는 새삼스런 생각을 해본다. 큰 기대 없이 왔지만, 많은 것을 얻고 간다.