After all of the heavy religious thinking of Holy Week I like to relax on Easter with one of my favorite old Korea stories.
Fifty years ago, the winter of 1961-1962 was the cruelest we’d ever known. Rivers were frozen deep. Little girls were scouring hills for twigs for kitchen fires. Savings were going into compressed briquettes of coal dust that were mostly clay. Father Kevin Connors, planning on visiting me, said, “I’d love it if we could have tucks of heat.”
Every morning our hilltop was visited by a little boy whose name I never learned. On his way to school, with his back pack of books as big as himself, he’d climb one side of our hill, then go down the other. Coming in from Mass I’d gotten into the habit of pausing to spot him out our office window.
One morning late in that endless winter I saw the boy hunker down for a full minute. He had found something of interest on the edge of our yard. It hardly registered with me; but at nine-thirty when I was expecting the mailman, I looked out, and found him hunkering at the same spot.
I went out, and saw that he was fixed on a small green nub. It was like the tip of an asparagus shoot. I asked the mailman what it was, and he said, “Paik-hwa-gote-chida.”
I knew a gote was a flower, but I had to look up the rest of it. My dictionary told me the little boy and the mailman had found a lily. Through the day others discovered it there, then went away smiling. Their joy was not over just that one lily. For them it meant that the cruel winter was over, and with that one lily the whole of nature would come back to life.