I remember in 2001, March 17th and May 27th, my family cried solemnly in despair. Those dates mark the deaths of both my grandfathers; I was only seven years old. I recall no memory of deep relation with them because I was simply too young.
Back then, I was young and carefree. I didn’t value or really know my grandfathers; I had no notion that someone could possibly leave me forever. I never thought of death, and I couldn’t comprehend the idea. How could somebody I knew disappear from my life?
Later, I learned much about my grandfathers. My paternal grandfather was a medic during the Korean War, and he had earned medals for his valor. At first he was a doctor, but he eventually became a high-level government official. He had even received an honorary plaque from the Korean President, Park Chung-Hee, for his esteemed service. My maternal grandfather was a North Korean refugee who had to leave his family behind to escape to South Korea in order to keep his freedom. He was a true rags to riches story. He had left his brother, wife, and family in the North, and started with nothing in the South. He used his high-school level education and created his own accounting business which made him wealthy. He must have been so motivated in a way that I cannot even imagine. I wish I could have heard these stories from them, in their own carefully chosen words, and seen the reactions in their faces as they told them. I wonder what insights of life they would’ve wanted me to learn from their past experiences.
I remember when they were still alive, all the adults would talk at the dinner table. I could not understand what they were saying to me because of my poor Korean skills. Regretfully, I remember how I could not join in the conversation. I merely sat silently watching everyone talk. Language barriers held us apart from true communication. Although I know I’m not responsible for our lack of discussion, I feel that perhaps if my Korean was better I could have talked with them in a real conversation. I regret that I was only seven at the time. What could I give to them besides mumbled responses?
I never realized how valuable these men were. They weren’t just family, they were my living connection to the past. They knew of history from their own experiences, which I never even thought about. Today, questions churn in my head of answers they would have given to my questions. I wonder about what they thought, what they knew, what they saw. I want to know. They were gone even before I knew I had questions. I never got to understand them. I never truly even realized I valued them until they were gone. That’s how I’ve come to the realization that I believe in appreciation, because I’ve learned to appreciate something before it is too late. In the future I wish to learn more about my grandfathers so I can fully appreciate them and all the sacrifices they have made for our family.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.