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Dear Mom,

I’m writing you this letter because i’m going to Jeju Island today but I didn’t get to see you before I left.

Hopefully you find this letter tomorrow when I’m there.

Maybe my friends can message their mom’s to let you know i’m here.

I wish I could bring my smartphone but you have hidden it from me until I come back.

You think I use it too much right? I know I do.

You’ll be proud of me though mom – i’m going to bring my drawing set you gave me last year!

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I’m so excited for Children’s Day when I get back!

It’s going to be even better than last time, and that day was the best ever.

Can you remember when we went to City Hall in Seoul and we had a picnic? The weather was so good!

I love that you said we can go back to City Hall on Children’s Day.

This time i’m going to play lots because I don’t have school that day. It’s going to be so much fun.

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I love all the pretty flowers on display at City Hall. I just know that there will be more than ever before on Children’s day, because Spring came early this year so everywhere will be full of life.

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First, I can’t wait for Jeju Island!

I’m a little nervous about going on a boat for the first time but also excited. One of my hopes was to go to Jeju remember?

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I can’t wait to have fun with my friends on the trip and draw lots of pictures.

I told you that I want to be an artist when I grow up.

I hope there will be lots of art at City Hall again on Children’s Day.

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I know you saved up lots of money to let me go to Jeju mom, remember when you thought you couldn’t afford for me to go?

But you worked hard and I appreciate how much you did to make it happen.

I almost didn’t go.

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Don’t worry about me mom, i’ll be fine! Just think of me being happy with my friends.

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Even though things haven’t been easy since dad went away, I know you won’t miss me too much while I’m away.

You will have lots of time to do nice things.

Don’t worry, dad will watch over me from heaven and I will be safe.

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After I get back, and we go to City Hall for Children’s Day, can we go to the Cheonggyecheon stream?

I love the lanterns there. I hope it’s not too crowded.

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After Children’s Day it’s Buddha’s Birthday and it will be so much fun because I want to visit a temple.

Remember when we did that temple stay because Grandma wanted us to be Buddhist?

I liked it mom. I want to do it again.

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I still remember what the monk said to us.

He said: “If we could see the miracle of a single flower clearly, our whole life would change.” 

I thought about that a lot. I think I know what it means, mom.

It’s about change. Everything always changes.

Everything grows and changes and finds a way into light.

I think that’s where flowers go when they die, mom. They don’t really die.

They go into light.

See you soon mom.

 

 

This was a fictional letter written as an account of one any of the hundreds of children that lost their lives in the Sewol ferry sinking. It was inspired by artwork and scenes from Seoul Plaza and City Hall on the weekend before Children’s Day on May 5th, 2014.

My mother had flown from England to visit me and mass tributes and gatherings had replaced a scheduled festival. We were struck with the weight of collective respects being bestowed upon the victims of the tragedy. 

This Children’s Day, the bodies of many of the children who boarded the Sewol will still not have made it back to their families, but their their spirits are no longer amidst those cold oceans. They are in every letter written on every one of the tens of millions of yellow ribbons. On every message board and every candle lit in remembrance. 

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“After your death you will be what you were before your birth.”

– Arthur Schopenhauer

You can see more of The Secret Map on the Facebook page.

 

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28 thoughts on “Into Light

    • Thanks so much Meagan. After what I saw, it felt natural to share some of the amazing and devastating artwork that was so moving. Hopefully people here will have some better news stories in the year to come.

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  1. This is terrible. I’m not personally offended (I’m not connected to this tragedy in any way), although I can see the potential for it to offend, I’m not going to critique it on those grounds.

    No, it’s terrible because it’s poorly-written. The fact that you repeat “Jeju island” as though the mother and daughter haven’t talked about it. The low-grade philosophical flower junk is both wrong in tone and subject for a letter to one’s mother. The “Don’t worry, I’ll be safe” post facto sappy propheticness.

    It’s full of the worst tearjerker tendencies of YA fiction.

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    • Thanks for the review Michael. For the record, it was written as a child would write, and the full term of ‘Jeju island’ is what Koreans call it (Jeju-do) instead of just ‘Jeju’.

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  2. This is in extremely poor taste. It’s basically tragedy porn, and it’s not even well written enough to even justify the thought of its conception, let alone its actual existence. You should be ashamed of yourself for trying to capitalize on the very real pain of other people.

    Liked by 1 person

    • As I stated above, it’s written from a child’s perspective, it’s not suppsoed to be Shakespeare. As for tragedy porn and capitalizing, I stand to gain nothing from this apart from spreading a positive and uplifting message amidst the depression and anger that’s saturating the media here at the moment.

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      • It doesn’t require that you make any money, only that you draw attention to yourself instead of the very real victims of this incredibly tragic event. A casual perusal of your blog and more of your writing indicates that you are indeed a wonderful human being and a gifted writer. I sorry to bombard your comments section with hate-filled vitriol. I just need a hug. Wait. What..just..happened?

        Liked by 1 person

  3. When did it become acceptable to write fan fic on major (and very recent) tragedies? I understand the good intentions that went into this, but it is, as the commenter above so aptly stated, in incredibly poor taste.

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    • Hi Peter, I can see you didn’t enjoy the post. I appreciate your thoughts though and it’s interesting to see the range of what different people consider acceptable to their own personal taste. It might be of interest to you that every Korean who has responded to this has done so positively. Unlike the anonymous reactionary before you who launched into such a long-winded, vicious personal attack on me that I had to moderate his comment. So thank you for being civilized.

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  4. It is not that you are not allowed to write about such events. But co-opting the voice of a child to play upon the sympathies of your readers is a terrible choice to make as a writer. I am a creative writer myself and I used to teach creative writing. A cardinal rule in my class was that students could not speak from the voice of someone unless they have actually walked a mile in that person’s shoes. Given that you are talking from the perspective of a child who has died, what gives you the authority to decide what his or her last day was like? Who are you to project your feelings and perspectives onto someone you have never met? If you really want to write about this issue, consider waiting a few months. Consider actually talking to the parents who went through this. Consider asking them how they remember their children. That would be a solid piece of journalistic reporting. This is sentimental claptrap that is deeply offensive on so many levels. Additionally, given that this was a Korean teenager, you have presented him/her from a perspective that is deeply western and it reflects your own ethnocentrism more than anything else. Perhaps you could do some research on writing conventions prevalent in Korea first? The person you are representing and writing for was a complicated human being with feelings and ideas that go far beyond your limited perspective and writing ability. Consider being more respectful.

    If you really want to pay homage to the victims of this tragedy, please get the “real” facts rather than concocting fiction that does not, in any way, reflect the reality of these victims.

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  5. Hi MN, thanks for the thoughts. You do realize this is a fictional character writing to another fictional character when they were very much alive? It’s purposely ambiguous to appeal to anyone’s humanity. I work with Korean teenagers every day, and I have been a kid myself. That’s all this is, a letter to a parent.

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    • All of us can make the claim that we were children once, but that does not mean that you can use your experiences to generalize about the experiences of other. And hiding behind the excuse that this is “fiction” is naive: you are writing about an event that really happened and is still affecting hundreds of people. Even fiction writers research the subjects they are writing about. As a creative writer, you ought to have some knowledge of what really happened before adding your own flourishes to a story. And please don’t turn the very real victims of this tragedy into “characters” in a story. That is offensive and unnecessary. Again, they were real people with complex lives that you know nothing about. Would you consider similarly fictionalizing people who were onboard the Malaysian airplane that disappeared? Would that be appropriate given that those families have no idea what happened to their loved ones? No, that would be equally offensive and reductive. Just because you live and work in Korea does not mean you have special insight into the lives of the victims who died onboard that ferry. Give their families time to grieve before you turn their stories into inappropriate fictional accounts.

      If you really want to convey the enormity of this tragedy, why not write from your own perspective rather than inventing one that you know nothing about? From your responses to the other commenters, I see that you are determined to defend this piece of writing, so I don’t see this dialog leading to anything productive. But I hope some of these comments at least help you reflect on why this piece is so offensive to so many people.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I’m listening to your responses, but the only people offended by this are a handful of American white guys and you (you’re completely anonymous). A potential to offend is not the same as actual malicious intent. I’ve had a hugely positive response from Koreans about this on Facebook and real life. I’ve written back to the other negative comments to give them the time of day, because I encourage a dialogue but not a hate-filled personal attack, which one of them did. What do you want me to say? Sorry for not fitting into your checklist of what can and can’t be applied to creative writing. Why is it that your particular demographic is so easily offended? Whose to say what the fate of this child was anyway? Maybe they lived. It doesn’t have to be a victim.

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  6. At least with all the tributes, yellow ribbons and mass gatherings from the public, it shows that they not alone in the tragedy, and that whatever happened to let that boat sink won’t be forgotton about, so something like this hopefully won’t happen again.

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  7. I’m not even sorry for saying this: this is such garbage. Stop taking advantage of tragedies like this, nobody wants to see your stupid grief porn.

    You’re sick.

    Like

  8. Pingback: Liberation Day | The Secret Map

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