The Continual Contrast of Life

It had been a hard month of preparation for an “open class” where the parents of our kindergarten students come to see their children’s progress toward English fluency. We had prepared fun lessons with interactive speaking and listening activities with ample parental involvement and were now ready for it to be over. The night went perfect. All three native English teacher’s classes were fun and exciting. I was riding a high of a small success; tired from a week spent sightseeing and stuffing myself with the best food Seoul had to offer as my sister, Elianne, and her friend, Alycia, had been visiting me. I felt I deserved a pizza. Good things were all around me, nothing extraordinary, just small bubbles of happiness fizzing in my mental soda, effervescent emissions of emotional elation. I get these sometimes. The buzz of self-actualization and being happy in the place you are is a great natural high. I think it’s the feeling of first time parents, sporting champions, and cats that just caught a mouse.

I felt jaunty and jolly. I left the pizza shop with an enormous box and a gluttonously asinine grin. I saw a small woman with a crutch, walking arm in arm with another woman. I just thought it was a grandma strolling with her daughter for a Friday night saunter. As I got closer, I noticed it was not an old woman, but some sort of a Benjamin Button type situation.

This was a young girl with an elderly face. She was smiling and telling a story. She walked slowly and deliberately. She might have been fully-grown at about waist height. She didn’t give the impression of self-pity, yet I still had my typical reaction of: “be grateful for everything you have and hope that she is happy.” But, I was overwhelmed. I literally wept onto my pizza box behind a dirty truck. I cried for her situation, mostly because it was hard to imagine myself in her shoes.

I am so lucky to have good health, good friends, great family, a decent job, a warm home, clean water, a full fridge (stocked with mediocre pizza), a closet full of clothes, disposable income, and the ability to live a life as I determine. I assume this girl might have most if not all of these things, and I am only being superficial in thinking she is any less happy than I am because she looks slightly different than I do. But, whatever it takes to get a strong smack in the face to remind yourself that the world is beautifully flawed, an irreconcilable contradiction, with a loving detachment for all its inhabitants, the more you can appreciate any brief glimpse of pleasure.

After composing myself, I walked past the BBQ restaurants filled with jovial conversations and satiated stomachs. I saw the cars pass on their way with presumably fit humans. Girls in tight black stockings and men in tight blue jeans walked around in autumnal comfort. And I felt the pervasive oblivion that traps us inside our own trivial problems around every corner. The coffee shops, ice cream parlors, and beauty salons that give us brief connections to distill the true isolation we all feel at times. Then I heard a cat wail. He was under a garage gate and had cute eyes that actually looked at me instead of watched me like the other street felines. He was hungry. He wasn’t interested in my pizza cheese, so I bought him a tuna can and observed his hunger and my desire for a good deed be satisfied together.

I seem to have a real fascination with the modern contrast of life. The simplicity and comfort fused with the complexities and anxieties mixing us into faltering amalgams of artificial confidence and impenetrable neuroses. I suppose it’s the world I choose. Or maybe it’s the world I inherited.

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