Wednesday, 23 March 2005

March 23rd 2005

Well, it's quiet today: last time I wrote a letter
like this, I was sitting in a sauna in Seoul, hoping
my ears wouldn't get blasted out of my head by the
earthquake-loud dance music playing nearby. This
time, I can hear a clock ticking, and wind blowing
outside the window. The air smells like carpet (an
extreme rarity in Korea: almost all floors are tile or
plastic cleverly disguised to look like light wood
paneling). I also smell cypress trees, growing things
(happy beginning of spring, all), and . . . nothing
(no car exhaust, no street food, no cigarettes). This
can only mean one thing: I am back in Canada.

I finished working on the 28th of February. My
Kindergarten students graduated to first grade (I have
really cute pictures) on the 25th, and I'm proud as
punch of them; Exgirfriendoseyo ALSO graduated from university
on the 25th of February, unfortunately at the same
time as my students, so, lacking the time to develop a
working duplicater safe for human use, I had to miss
seeing my girlfriend graduate. The conversation
went/may have gone like this:

"I wish you could be here to see me graduate, Rob."

"Oh Exgirfriendoseyo -- I wish I could be there! I'd scream
'That's my girlfriend and I love her!' as loud as I
could as you walked up to get your diploma!"

"But I guess it's OK that you can't come. Have fun
with your Kindergarten kids!"

for some reason she wasn't too upset.

I stayed in Korea until March 14th -- two extra weeks
after I finished working. Matt F, my best friend in
Korea (and the newest member of my pantheon of best
friends in the world), let me stay at his house for
two weeks, in his guest bed. This was really great of
him (especially after I figured out that the window
panels were improperly lined up, and THAT'S why the
room was so cold at night.)

The reason I stayed an extra two weeks was so that I
could end my time in Korea on a series of high notes
with my different friends and communities, rather than
on a frantic, rushed, "I still have to finish
packing!" note, like in 2003. Also, I wanted to spend
a LOT of time with my wonderful, beautiful, sweet,
funny . . . (she knows all the other adjectives that
go in this space) . . . warm-hearted and all-around
fantastic girlfriend Exgirfriendoseyo.

After my last day of work, (and before), I had a real
blast winding down my time in Korea. Matt took me
dancing one night (something I'd missed doing since we
were in Japan), I lost money playing poker with the
old coworkers, and I spent a lot of time with Exgirfriendoseyo.
A lot. In fact, just about the only time I DIDN'T
spend with Exgirfriendoseyo, was spent either packing, or
preparing some kind of gift for Exgirfriendoseyo, or travelling
to meet Exgirfriendoseyo, or sleeping, or with Matt. The number
one goal of my extra two weeks was to solidify the
relationship Exgirfriendoseyo and I have had since the end of
July, and make sure that it's built solidly enough to
last, and grow, during my time in Canada. It will be
a difficult time, and distance is never easy, but the
extra two weeks seemed to be exactly the right amount
of time to get everything really working well.

My next goal is to get her to come to Canada. We're
working on a strategy for talking to/asking her
parents, that includes a formal invitation from my
parents and stuff like that. Here's to hoping. My
mom really wants to see Exgirfriendoseyo again (and Exgirfriendoseyo wants
to see my Mom), and I think we can make it happen.

Now that I'm back in Canada, I'm starting to look for
work, and I'm writing a lot. This is a good thing. I
hope that I'll be able to do a lot of work on poetry
and stories, and hopefully, even be able to start
sending poems out to magazines and such. So if
anybody reading this is a magazine publisher, and you
need a poem to fill in an empty space, just give me a
shout! Beyond that, my main goal is just to be around
the house, making myself useful to my mom and dad as
Mom gets weaker, and Dad feels the strain of caring
for a sick wife. It's really the least I can do.

One thing I've learned over the last six months is how
important family can be. Mom and Dad have been
supported by their church family these months, and now
I'm in Canada to do what I can. Often, the best
things families do for each other aren't spectacular:
your uncle doesn't have to save you from a burning oil
refinery to be your hero, and your friend doesn't have
to carry you down a mountainside after you break your
ankle, to prove (s)he's a friend for life. Usually
love shows itself best in small ways -- a touch of
compassion, a compliment, a hug at the right time.
Right now, to be here for my mom and dad, it's all
menial things -- carrying in the groceries, mowing the
lawn, cooking dinner because mom loses her appetite if
she cooks, cleaning bathrooms because company's
coming. But, the sum of those things is not the
trivial nature of the work I'm doing, it's the way I
can show my love for my family right now. I'm lucky
enough to be in a position where I can do that, and
I'm so glad that Mom has someone to carry in the
groceries. (I think she is, too.)

Mom gets tired more easily. In October, when she came
to Korea, she managed to out-last both me and my dad
as we toured around Seoul. Now, she rests most of the
day if she's going out in the evening, and she falls
asleep at 8 pm if she's been active in the afternoon.
Sometimes she eats well, and sometimes her stomach
just rebels, but she is amazingly peaceful. She is
happy to see the people who come by, and she has an
attitude as positive as anybody I've met (which is
totally in character for her, but that only makes it
more remarkable). Dad sometimes feels the strain, too
-- he gets headaches and such sometimes, and every
once in a while he has a really emotionally exhausting
day, so please keep both of them in your prayers.

The Thursday after I arrived in Canada, my brother in
law had a birthday party for my sister. Her birthday
is January 1, but since New Year's Day is already a
party day, he decided to throw her a party on a
different day, so that her birthday was a special
occasion of its own. Unfortunately, Mom, Dad and I
had been told everything about the party but its
location (I don't think that's what was intended when
Brad said a surprise party), so we only managed to
find the party at all because I had stuck our
cellphone in my pocket, and forgotten it was there
when we drove out to Langley. Deb called us and we
found our way to our friend Sarah's house.

Then, on Saturday, my Uncle Tony and Aunt Marianne
came from Thunder Bay, Ontario, and on Monday my Uncle
Hugh and Aunt Heather (both Uncles are Dad's brothers)
came by from the Okanagan in BC, in order to help us
celebrate Mom and Dad's 30th wedding anniversary.
This was a pretty big, exciting thing. About 80
people from the Agassiz community came to and open
house in our church building, and gave their best
wishes to Mom and Dad. My uncles and aunts played
guitar, sang, and told jokes, and everybody ate,
signed the guest book, looked through Mom and Dad's
wedding album, and took pictures of the happy couple.


My uncle Tony reflected how an anniversary like this
celebrates the idea of marriage and commitment, as
well as my Mom and Dad's marriage, and it reminds
everybody to hold onto the ones they love. Doing this
takes a lot of different things: sometimes one is
needy, and sometimes the other. Sometimes, the main
thing that holds a marriage through a hard time is
stubbornness, and sometimes relationships only survive
by luck, or sheer grace, by the hope that things will
get better through commitment, effort and humility,
by the hope that the stubbornness will be worthwhile,
and give the grace a space to shine. Through all this
celebration, the main feeling, I think, was
thankfulness -- Dad thanks God for Mom, and the time
he's had with her. Mom thanks God for Dad, and the
love she's been able to give and receive. I thank God
that Mom met Dad, because if they hadn't, I'm not sure
how I'd be able to send this letter (and they swear
they're glad I was born, too). My parents have
touched a lot of people in their lifetimes, and will
touch more people in new ways before they're done, but
the anniversary celebration was a great way to note
how much good can come out of two people deciding to
build a life together, to make love an important part
of their life. I've always thought love is like a
muscle: the more you work it, the stronger it gets,
and the stronger a muscle is, the more work it can do,
and the more people it can help.

I'm not sure how long I'll be in Canada, but I hope I
get lots of opportunities to exercise love, and to
grow stronger because of it; the people around me in
Canada (and the US), and the people waiting for me in
Korea, deserve the strongest, most loving Rob I can
be.

Take care of yourselves.

If you live near Agassiz, give me a call: I have lots
of free time right now, and I'd love to catch up. If
you don't have my number, just hit the reply button
(delete the text of the rest of my letter) and ask for
my digits.

with love:
Rob Ouwehand