Pages InformationWriter Jogye Date24 Jan 2019 Read1,536 Comment0
Love, Another Name for Miracle
Hyeanwol (Dharma Name) Seonghui Hwang
Opening my eyes slowly, I wondered, is this a dream? It was still dark outside my window, and The Lotus Sutra was opened in front of my eyes. As though grasping at straws, I recited the sutra, but the hardening of my swirling heart wouldn’t subside. I called out to the Bodhisattva of Avalokiteshvara, or Great Compassion, summoning all my might. Filled with the strong desire to endlessly deny my poor ragged self, I hollered out, “There is no ‘I’. There is no ‘I’. There is no ‘I’.” What exactly am I, this I who is perpetually shivering all over? Why is living so dreadfully hard and painful? Without any cushion, I sat on the bare, dark floor, filled with determination, and murmured the chant, “What am I?” although I knew there would be no shortcut to answering such an inquiry. Soon tears rolled down and wet my face and collar, though I felt no dampness.
Then, all of a sudden, it came to me. The completeness and serenity that had never been felt before that moment, came to me. I realized that all is one, and even “I” am “love” itself. There was nothing. My body, overwhelmed by all its pain and sorrow just seconds before, and its resident spirit, simply and abruptly, vanished.
By dawn, I was one with the sound of waves from the ocean near my house. I was no different from the round pebbles on the beach, howling and rolling through the rough water. My affliction vanished, as well as all thinking and sensations. There was no ‘I’. It was a void of darkness, but it was filled with a sense of warmth that can’t be explained in words. The abundance in the emptiness was speaking to me, “You simply are. The way everything is, is simply complete. It has always been here and will always be here. Your role here is just to love. Love and love again.”
Someone was listening to my mind, although I had spoken no words. At that moment, I realized that I came here to love, my simple existence is lovable, and all beings are equal. Rising from the dark room, I headed to the beach, where the tiny round pebbles were being eroded. The far-off fishing boats affectionately scattered shimmering light onto the dark ocean at dawn. A lamp in a deep corner of my mind turned on and shone brightly. A few days before, the phone rang in the midst of a busy day. Hearing the noisy ring, I glanced at my phone; it was from the Banyawon Center. My heart sank instantly. There were two more missed calls from them already. It seemed urgent, but I ended up returning the calls late, excusing myself, saying I’d been busy.
I have always been a sinner. Leaving my 26-year-old daughter, who has the intelligence of a two-and-half-year-old, at a facility for the disabled, I am a sinful mother, filled with remorse and shame, wandering through the vicinity of the living. I feel sorry that I have left my helpless child, who can’t do anything by herself, in the hands of the institution. I feel sorry that I haven’t been able to go and see her often. Most importantly, I am sorry that I have given her a body in such a state, yet am unable to be with her and play with her all the time. I always feel like a criminal, mortified and remorseful.
Nonetheless, life hasn’t given me a chance to redeem myself from shame and guilt. I found myself alone fifteen years ago. My naïve self was simply overwhelmed by the pain of dealing with the matters of the mundane world, with no experience. In the midst of this predicament, my child was the purpose and vehicle of my life. She needed me to be there for her during that time. Because of her, I had to keep myself going, and was able to forget that I was alone.
Despite all this, we couldn’t live together. In order to survive, my daughter, Eunyoung, and I had to be separated from our daily lives. Consequently, she ended up in a place called the Banyawon Center, a facility for the disabled, while I lived in my own place nearby. Although I intended to go and visit her often, it was not easy to reestablish my life, which I had spent a long time wandering away from. When I became weary and tired, I occasionally forgot about my daughter.
“Oh, you must have been very busy,” the voice commented.
I replied, “I am terribly sorry. I apologize for not being able to visit often. I am truly sorry.”
“Madam, I understand that you are very busy, but I think you need to come for a visit.”
It was her physical therapist. My heart sank instantly and started beating violently. Even without considering her disability, she had had ovarian cancer, which resulted in surgery seven years before. After that, I was always nervous for her. Even when she felt suffering or pain, she was unable to express her discomfort, so the tumor had grown to be 10 cm long before it was finally found. By that time, she ultimately had to have surgery to remove it.
My daughter doesn’t usually cry over little things. One day, a nurse, who had been observing my daughter, noticed her squatting in a corner, crying for days, so she took her to the hospital, and discovered two large cancerous masses. When I rushed to the big hospital, a doctor, who had operated on her, commented after the surgery that it must have been excruciating. Nevertheless, nobody knew about it. Even after the anesthesia from the surgery, she would fade in and out of consciousness, due to severe pain.
Despite her pain, I had to leave my pale-faced daughter, who couldn’t even express herself, in her hospital bed, so I could go to work. As soon as I left the hospital, I developed a sort of itchiness all over my body. Then, hives the size of coins started to spring up all over my body. Each time I visited the hospital, I suffered from terrible itchiness, and the itching and hideous rashes scared me. However, I was more scared for my daughter.
“Is there any problem with Eunyoung?” I asked.
“Yes, there is something we need to discuss,” the voice informed me.
The next morning, I went to Banyawon. The spring rain of May, which had started at dawn, was still falling gently. After parking my car, I headed to the living area of the main building. Folding my umbrella and entering the main door, I heard a loud howling that filled the building. The sound coming out of the building was so loud and peculiar that nothing else seemed to matter. I thought it might be my daughter, and it was indeed her. My mind became blank, and then her physical therapist told me what had happened.
“It has been a few days since she started to behave like that, hollering, throwing things, and attacking people. We are quite startled by her recent change as well. She used to be quiet, neither talking nor active. She has been going to people who had often bullied her, and started pinching and hitting them. She must have received a lot of stress from them over a long period of time. Now, other residents are having a hard time. We have taken her to a hospital and they recommended hospitalizing her in a psychiatric ward in an isolated unit for a month.”
My heart tightened and I felt the bleakness of the situation. My occupation is in music therapy. I usually work with children with disabilities like my daughter, but also help people with psychological pain or suffering in their minds. Once a week, for a long time, I have led a group program run by a hospital, intended for patients in the isolation ward. Such a place is not suitable for a person like my daughter. It was difficult to understand and I was disappointed that some people thought it was a solution. Though I am a mother who has committed many sins, there was no one to blame. In tears, I begged them not to send her there.
“Please give Eunyoung and me a month. I will try to calm her down the best I can. She is in such pain, which has driven her to this state. Sending her to such a hospital will worsen her condition even more. I know it is hard for you, but please give us just a month. If, at the end of the month, her condition persists, I will send her to the hospital.”
After my heartfelt plea, the official allowed us the month I had requested. Then, someone brought my daughter into the office. She had been hollering outside, but her body movements seemed strange. Her face was salty with tears, but her body kept jerking backward and her arms flailed.
The voice explained, “Madam, Eunyoung has contracted Sydenham’s chorea, also known as St. Vitus’s dance. We ran a few tests but we couldn’t isolate the cause.”
“St. Vitus’s dance?” I repeated, dumbfounded.
“It is a degenerative disease of the nervous system. It is characterized by serious jerking, involuntary movements in the arms and legs, so it looks as if one is dancing. So Eunyoung’s torso jerks backwards and her arms flail by themselves. It is possible that the symptoms will get worse in the future, and what’s more, it is a terminal disease, with no known cure.”
Her face was filled with tears and she was swinging her arms wildly. Her helpless eyes looked so sad while she howled to her mother, whom she hadn’t seen for a long time. I held her tightly in my arms. Feeling sick and terrified, my daughter and I were lonely and isolated, like flower petals falling into a bottomless precipice. Frightened and shaken, I held her tighter once more. In my arms, her bellowing slowly subsided.
Before long, the rain stopped. Along with the wet smell of the earth, a gentle warm breeze took away the tears that had rolled down our faces. I lifted my head abruptly. It was May; the moist green earth was fresh, radiating. Between the leaves, the light gray sky, the clouds hanging loosely, and the foggy mist filled our eyes.
It was breathtaking. It was hard to believe the world could be this stunningly beautiful. On the other hand, I was in hell. Why were the May sky and leaves after the rain so lovely? I fell onto the wet ground. Unintentionally, the bellows that my child had let out a moment before flew out of my own mouth. Then, from that evening on, I opened The Lotus Sutra purposefully and began reading. A few days later, I came to realize what I was and why I was there. Ultimately, I was no longer afraid of anything.
Without skipping a day, I went to see my daughter. There wasn’t always enough time, and sometimes I had to run. Now and then, the amount of time it took to get there was longer than the amount I spent with her, but I made an effort to spend as much time with her as possible.
Holding onto her twisting body, I took a short walk and sang to her. I whispered into her ear how I was sorry, loved her, and asked for her forgiveness. The child slowly became stable. There were no more howls or anxiety, and the anger in her eyes gradually diminished. From time to time, when I sang her childhood lullabies, she sang with me.
Nonetheless, her illness became more and more severe. Her jerking got worse and one day, she couldn’t even stand up. I tried to be her voice and body as she lay there helplessly, neither able to speak nor move, but I just didn’t have enough time.
Though we had more happy times together, watching how painful her life continued to be, my soul felt lost in darkness all the time. The endless pain was heavily weighing her down. As I watched my daughter in this condition, I realized that Eunyoung was not just my child all of a sudden. She was a sick and helpless being in anguish, enduring a life of indescribable suffering and agony.
In the midst of all this, one day, I thought that letting her go might make her happier, and started to look for ways to do so.
I decided to pray for her. If her life in this world had to be this painful, I prayed that she would be taken ahead, and be reborn as a beautiful, healthy being. Since her birth, she had never done anything bad, not spoken foul words or had wicked thoughts, not even once. She bore no more guilt than an angel, so I prayed that she could go.
I started the prayer of three thousand prostrations at Baekryeonam Hermitage in Hapcheon County. As it was my first time prostrating, the physical pain was awfully excruciating. Meanwhile, I reminded myself that I must endure this pain to the end. I wondered why it had to be this way, and my thoughts boiled over, making the conflict even more tormenting. I felt as if I was losing my mind. From moment to moment, the lumps from the bottom of my mind surfaced and suffocated me. I was tempted to storm out of my predicament or stifle my heart that was about to burst.
“Buddha, please save her! Please take away Eunyoung’s pain. If she has to live like that, please take her to your side and give her to a new life with a healthy body. Please save her, Buddha!”
With my unwilling, aching legs, I knelt down to bow down again and again. Unable to open my eyes under pouring sweat, I called to Eunyoung at that moment, thinking about how she was confined to her bed, immobile, and only blinking her two shiny eyes. ‘Please Eunyoung, help me! Please help me. Please save me, Eunyoung!’
I just couldn’t give up. The prostrations that I started in the evening continued throughout the night, and the dawn finally broke. As the end of the three thousand prostrations grew near, my body was a wreck, but a sense of humility and pride sprang up from a deep, unknown part of my mind.
Since then, my day has begun with the practice of prostrations. Every day, bowing three hundred times, I developed the strength to withstand each day and galvanized my conviction. Then, one morning after about forty days, a text arrived from her therapist.
“Madam, Eunyoung is up and walking!” the voice announced.
A photo was sent along with the text, there was pale-looking Eunyoung, standing awkwardly. Until the day before, she had been immobile for two months, but she was really standing and walking.
At once, I ran to Banyawon. My child saw me and walked toward me, through still moving like a zombie. She called to me, “Mommmm…!” and walked toward me.
At a loss for words, I simply embraced her. The officials and other families looked at us, smiling. Eunyoung said, “Mommm…, I loooove yoooou.”
She was saying, “Mom, I love you,” in her unique baby voice, as her teachers taught her every day, and called people around her.
For a while, though her body condition grew better and worse again, back and forth, Eunyoung was able to talk to some degree. When seeing people, she called their names and even sang along with the songs on TV.
The chorea was under control with medications. Her body still made some involuntary movements, but she looked as if she had almost recovered. Though she couldn’t walk for a long time, she was able to stroll, sing and repeat, with clear pronunciation. She even surprised her residential family and caregivers by using some words that she had never spoken before.
Seeing her drastic transformation, the people in Banyawon called her a miracle. Moreover, they poured out their affections and love to Eunyoung, the miracle child. Indulging their attention and love, Eunyoung happily greets me once a week.
Everyone said it was the miracle, but I know the truth. It was not a miracle, but love. With the firm belief that only Buddha can save sentient beings from the sea of pain, when we take refuge in him, he has granted “love” to Eunyoung, not as my daughter, but as a fellow being. Still, I offer my prayers, by doing three hundred prostrations every morning.
“I offer my prayer to all Buddhas and Bodhisattvas in the past, present and future. I offer my prayer for the happiness of all beings. I pray for all sentient beings in the world suffering from mental and physical illnesses.”
One day soon, I know that you too will realize the completeness of the universe. Furthermore, I became aware that I was only put here to love; that is, that love was a Buddha.
In the refreshing breeze that blew through the leaves on that hellish day in May, there was a Buddha as well as abundant love. Perhaps, that was why the world looked so beautiful on that day.
Even today, I go around meeting people who are physically and psychologically ill. There are of course children with disabilities like my daughter Eunyoung. With the tool of music, I mend their sick minds and bodies and try to repay the gifts I have received. Thus, I pray every day that I can give each of them the best of what I have in myself.
Truly, when I can convey the love, peace, and abundance within my being to them, they cast forth a blossoming smile, like flowers. It is a moment of happy communion. All of a sudden, I see the Buddha’s smile in their faces. I am very thankful for the smiles that come from each and every day.