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  IDEAS & IDEALS

Lost in Mist

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                As a man of over 60 and a dweller in Seoul, I have long lost direct contact with many natural elements and objects with which I had grown up in the rural countryside, and I miss them often. Today, with the glorious season of summer spreading before me once more, one thing I miss most, among many, is the mist - the summer mist that used to be found anywhere so easily and so abundantly early in the morning before the sun rose up. It surprises me anew that I have lived so long even without realizing its existence.

                In summer I used to get up early in the morning, earlier than other boys, in order to collect the cobwebs hanging under the eaves of the thatched houses for my dragonfly catcher. My bare feet and short pants got quite wet with the dewdrops on the leaves of grass when I walked brushing through the fields following the dragonflies with the catcher in my hand. With the sun rising, the dewdrops sparkled like pearls for a moment and soon vanished, and the cobwebs collected on my dragonfly catcher lost their stickiness too.

                And, there was the mist. It was over the fields, over the river and the pond. It often filled the valleys and shrouded the hills and the mountaintops far and near. I had often discovered myself in the ocean of mist on the bank of the river that ran through my hometown. To be in it was a sublime experience, and to my great regret, I cannot explain it to my children with words who have no physical contact with it. With the increase of the sunlight, it also began to lift, slowly revealing the real features of the world. The world in mist seemed more beautiful and even mysterious than what it was.

                However, the mist I know of and remember so well, once so abundant everywhere, even in the vicinity of Seoul, is hardly to be seen anywhere nowadays. It has gone. They say that my hometown, once the very home of mist, is not the exception. As the night - the real black, thick and quiet night - has disappeared from us before the advent of electric light, so has the mist fled to somewhere where there is less human presence. Like echo, a dweller in deep mountains, it seems to have fled to live away from the hustles and bustles of man. Mist, like echoes, loves solitude.

               Mist is nothing but a cloud of tiny water droplets suspended in the atmosphere at or near the earth’s surface. Fog is its nearest kin, but is usually thicker and denser, and consequently limits our visibility more significantly than mist. This is why only fog is always accused of serious auto accidents on the highways, not mist. However, the two are virtually the same thing in obstructing our vision. Haze is also related to mist. But strangely enough, only the mist among the three came to be loved by man, especially by the poets.

                Like all good things in nature, mist is very poetic by nature. Like dewdrops it is soft, fragile and ephemeral. However, it has a mysterious power to transform the world. By blurring our vision, by distancing objects, by softening and rounding the sharpness, the angularity and hardiness of reality, mist touches the world with its watery hand and turns it into the object of beauty and love. Indeed, there is kinship between mist and love. As there is no need of words for the lovers to talk about love, so do we not need to ask for the meaning of the song of a bird or the rising of the sun on a misty morning. We might just as well stand, see and feel.

                But as ambitious boys often leave their home leaving their loved ones behind, so one day I left home leaving the mist behind and forgot about it. Not only I forgot about it; I came even to hate and dislike it. With my youthful pride, ambition and arrogance I preferred everything real, transparent, hard and strong to something misty, unclear and weak. Now I confess that it’s not the mist that has left me; it’s me who has dispelled and dispersed it from my life, and lived for more than five decades in a real world as a realistic man. I wonder why today I came to regret so much the absence of mist around me.

                The mist has returned to me recently after long absence. Age has brought it back to me. With my age mist has begun to set heavily upon me again, and I came to see everything around me in mist. For me now everything is misty; nothing is clear. The boundary that has divided everything clearly into two - good and evil, white and black, love and hate, friend and foe, success and failure, meetings and partings, even life and death - has lost much of its color and meaning, like the mist-covered narrow paths in the grassy fields at my hometown when I was a little boy. I find myself so often and so long recalling my past days all lost in the mists of time with misty tears.
                                                                                                        (June 24, 2005)

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