An Invitation

(Come, it says.  Come and share your life with me.)

In four days, I will be boarding a plane to Inchon International Airport, the reverse itinerary of a trip I made twenty-four years, one month, and twenty-four days ago, to the date.  I don’t remember much about that day, which is now known in my family as my arrival day–no, I was only three months old, old enough for bewilderment but not nearly enough for something like memory.  And to be frank, that’s a pretty good description of how I feel right now: bewildered, and not nearly ready enough for this trip.  I have no idea of what to expect: even when I make a concerted effort to imagine myself there, my mind simply cannot bring itself to design that particular landscape for me, disbelieving, I think, that there is even a there awaiting me, awaiting my arrival.  Instead, what comes to me are variations on a theme of radical, impossible hospitality, the type that welcomes you in without any intimation of your imminent departure, the type that invites you–you, a perfect stranger!–to become kin, and in doing so, to never be the same.  From somewhere in its actual, concrete, completely extant geography, Korea asks again for my arrival.

(Come, they said.  Come and share your life with us.)

Who were these strangers, these perfect strangers who welcomed me into their home, ready to take on this little alien baby as their own?  And–prepare yourself–I did truly look like an alien:

That’s me on the lap, mind you; the baby with the shaved head, turned out feet, and the sign bearing my Korean name, Choi, Kyeong Mee. I presume that the woman holding me worked in the foster home, and that her serene face must grace many other adoptees’ photographs as she sat there, on that remarkable red bench, on that particular day.  This, and one other photo (a headshot), were the only pictures my adoptive parents had of me during the lengthy adoption process: as my mom recounts, when I was walked off the plane that first June day, I had grown so much she wasn’t sure it was me; it was only when she saw my feet that she knew, for sure, that this was the baby she and my dad had loved for so long.  (Loved, I’ll say again, with an impossible openness and hospitality.)

Yet I have no such evidence of such an existence, no particular fact or photograph that has the potential to grant such a miraculous, reassuring recognition.  And what’s most terrifying to me about this trip, I think, is the potential that I won’t be granted this experience, the sense that this is it, the rush of connection between this and it that places me where I am and ought to be.  And so, with increasing urgency, I repeat and extend my impossible invitation to Korea to share its life with me, trying to keep myself precariously open to any forms of kinship this trip might offer me (hospitable or hostile as the case may be), and to the spectrum of possible change that might result.  And I’m so grateful–yes–so terrified and so goddamn grateful to be able to do so, to be able to say something like come–as I step off the plane into a new and very real vista–come and share your life with me, whatever this life may be.

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10 thoughts on “An Invitation

  1. Thank you for your kind wishes, Moria (b.w.). Your own posts about difficulty and Augustine have been generative for me this summer, for which I repeat my thanks. See you back in the city, perhaps over that coffee date we’ve been vaguely plotting for awhile…

  2. Kelly,
    Since I’m in Korea now for the first time (as a Fulbright ETA), I would be especially interested to hear about your trip. I know you’re doing something different from what I am and that you’re approaching it from a different angle, but (aside from hoping that your own trip goes well) I think it would be useful to hear your perspectives.

    Please send me an email; I assume you can see my email, as the author of this blog. If not, let me know, and I’ll send it along.

    M. Barron

    (Ah, do you remember me? I’m an Amherst ’10. I had Japanese class last year with your sister, even.)

    • Why hello, Michelle! Good to hear from you, and I hope you’re having a great time as an ETA in Korea (I too am curious to hear about your experiences…) And as I can see your address, I will be sure to send you an email. Best wishes.

  3. Was it as great an experience as you might have hoped? Did the blanks get filled in? Personally I felt joyous and proud to be a part of Korea. Returning became more important while I was there than I had anticipated before the trip.

    By the way, I really like the way you write! =)

    • I’m so glad to hear that, Suzanne, especially the joyous and proud part. Definitely agree that the experience of “being there” changed everything; I feel like an equal amount of blanks were created as were filled in, which I think is both a good and difficult thing.

      By the way–I really like your photos! 🙂 It’s so great to see how other people documented their time.

  4. Amazing post, and it was wonderful meeting you Kelly! I am now going to eat my way through your backblog. Nice to see another Hark A Vagrant fan too 🙂
    You know one of the other participants has a photo taken on that very same improbable red bench?

    • Thanks, Dee! And happy travels through the foodblog backlog; I’m hoping to learn how to cook some Korean dishes in the future, so watch out for them too. Do you have a blog, by any chance?

      And wow, the improbable red bench strikes again! Do you remember who it was?

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