Saturday, 1 May 2010

Cheonan And The Land of the Mourning Calm....

This week, in front of Seoul's City Hall lay 46 portraits of the fallen sailors who perished in the sinking of a South Korean frigate, Cheonan, off the west coast of South Korea on March 26, 2010.
For the past month, daily headlines were all about the sinking, rescue, salvage and search of the frigate and its sailors. Of the 46, only 40 bodies were recovered; the six remain missing.

And on Thursday, April 29, they were all laid to rest.
I was at City Hall the day before to pay my respects. There were still long lines of people waiting for their turn to lay a chrysanthemum at the altar and because it was raining, I had to bring my umbrella. The atmosphere was sad, very solemn, and the music being played with its slow tempo and low notes reflecting the dolorous sentiments of the land in mourning.

The faces on the portraits of men, some of whom were very young, still kids, I should say, and a few older men, who may have been some of the ship's officers, looked proud in their Navy uniforms as if to say they were ready for battle. But sadly, they all perished without even going to one. These faces of men, who could be somebody's son, brother or father, will forever be etched in Korea's memory and history.
On the side of the plaza stood several standing boards with photographs of the ship, of the rescue and even of the crew on board the ship when they were still alive. And under the rain, these boards, too, were all drenched.

On the boards were a few more portraits of those who perished.

And as I was walking around, still with my umbrella and looking at the photographs, I noticed an elderly Korean woman also holding an umbrella and standing in front of one of those portraits - that of a very young sailor, barely in his 20s. And as she stood there, gazing into the wet portrait, she raised one of her hands to wipe the rain off the sailor's face, just like a mother would wipe the tears rolling down her young son's face. She just stood there quietly, as if in prayer or perhaps in a silent conversation with the sailor in the portrait bidding him farewell for she will never see him again. It was a very sad scene to see.

I moved on and continued to walk around the boards, I again saw the same scene. This time, two high school girls, still in their school uniforms, standing in front of another portrait while they shared an umbrella. The portrait was also that of another young sailor. Could he be their friend? Or relative? Or even a brother? The girls stay huddled together, standing silently, perhaps also saying prayer for the sailor in the portrait, and also bidding him farewell.

I am not even a parent, and yet knowing that these faces on the portraits could be a mother's son whom she will never be able to hug again, or somebody's father who will never see his children grow up is really sad, to say the least. And the most painful sorrow to experience, they say, is when a mother buries her own child. There are no words for that.

The rain did not stop. Why would it? As the whole land mourned for the fallen, the heavens also shed tears for them.
I decided to leave the place, and in mournful silence, I made my way to the tent where they laid out condolence books on a long table for the mourners to write down their farewells. I walked to the table, got hold of a book and pen, and wrote my own simple prayer to the fallen Sailors of Cheonan...
"May you all rest in peace...."

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