Atop the empty grandstand, amid dust kicked up by the Massey hauling plow for the rodeo that night, Hyunjin slapped me one exultant high five.
Because with 30 minutes of a month to spare, he- we actually- finished HELLO UNIVERSE.
For the record, I don’t recommend HELLO UNIVERSE. The universe with its bright crystals and stars are gods. But it’s a book I’m glad I read because it gave me precious side-by-side time with Hyunjin.
The young-adult fiction was assigned by Hyunjin’s English teacher in Korea. With 320 pages, it was Hyunjin’s daunting summer read.
But heaviness turned to joy in the top row of the grandstand.
Joys Doubled, Twice
Two years ago today, I posted about Kibum. I told you how our joys were doubled and our hearts were wrung by our first Korean exchange son. Wet eyes still come when I think about Kibum. Now they also come reliving the month with Hyunjin.
Which brings me to one of those sweet memories. Most nights before bed, I’d check in with Hyunjin about the next day’s events. That was the drill. So I walked into his room, calendar in hand.
Nine days left, I said.
Nine days? he repeated with urgency and scrambled for paper and pen. Then he did some long division: 238 divided by 9.
Oh! 31 pages, he exclaimed, eyebrows high.
Then I got it. He had nine days to finish an epic-long book written in a foreign language and he had barely begun. I knew what I had to do.
I read with you each day, okay Hyunjin? We sit together and read. We will get it done.
He smiled and sighed and for the last nine days, we did. We sat side by side on the sofa and read. And he taught me snake is pem and cat is goyang-i and I taught him that Prank is different from Frank and Birgil is not how we say Virgil. We learned and laughed.
And it was all joy.
Joy Shared, Joy Doubled
I’ve learned this pretty well, but sometimes I slip back into thinking I’ll be happier if I keep my little joys private. But I know better. Remember, love seeks not its own. Joy shared isn’t halved, it’s doubled!
Seeing our humdrum lives through Hyunjin’s fresh eyes proved it again: Joy shared is joy doubled.
Hyunjin helped us enjoy common things more: round-robin basketball in the driveway, dashing around in the van (sans flat tires), meals together, after breakfast reading and then turtle feeding, after lunch chess and playing with goyang-i, after dinner Monopoly Deal or even better slap-jack with dad.
In four weeks the boys played more chess, solved more cubes, took more bike rides and we all rolled our eyes at goofy-sounding words and our Korean mispronunciations and laughed more than in the whole year before.
There were more visits with family and friends and more lingering after dinner and, I admit, probably more home-cooked dishes than the other 11 months of the year.
To be sure, there was also more junk food in the bedrooms, more Dude Perfect flips, more multi-player video Brawl Stars and more goofy talk.
(Hyun-Jin, you know what we call that in America? Gabe would ask Hyunjin. Gooch. To mix it up, sometimes he’d say, equally ad nauseam by week three, Saucy.)
Go ahead, roll your eyes. Sometimes good friends do.
Hyunjin, like Kibum, brought out our best and smoothed out our worst. I like to think we grew a little more gentle and courteous last month too. Maybe we became a slightly less American and a slightly more Korean?
We do miss Hyunjin. But there’s one more thing I miss: I miss what we were when he was with us. Hyunjin brought out something in each of us that wasn’t expressed fully without him.
C.S. Lewis writes about that in The Four Loves. He describes the way he missed his friend Charles Williams, and how that one friend changed the “dynamics” of the group of friends called the “Inklings.”
In each of my friends there is something that only some other friend can fully bring out. By myself I am not large enough to call the whole man into activity; I want other lights than my own to show all his facets. Now that Charles is dead, I shall never again see Ronald’s reaction to a specifically Caroline joke. Far from having more of Ronald, having him “to myself” now that Charles is away, I have less of Ronald. Hence true Friendship is the least jealous of loves. Two friends delight to be joined by a third, and three by a fourth…They can then say, as the blessed souls say in Dante, “Here comes one who will augment our loves.” For in this love “to divide is not to take away.”
Adding One Multiplies
Adding Hyunjin to our family didn’t divide our love. His presence multiplied it.
Hyunjin brought out sides of Sam and Gabe that only a middle brother like Hyunjin could bring out.
Gabe cracked more and sometimes funny “Gucci-gooch” jokes and Sam played hard for chess Grandmaster. Hyunjin won the last game they played, for a 7-6 series lead. Sam says, “He’s lucky.” Gabe says, “gooch.”
Hyunjin also brought out fun sides of Jim I don’t get to see so much and, I suppose, more gentle, domestic sides of me.
His fresh kind eyes brought out our best and reminded us of the gift of each day.
Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained
Nothing ventured, nothing gained, we say. We ventured, we gained. We opened our hearts and home, and- you’ve loved- you know what comes.
C.S. Lewis again, from The Four Loves,
There is no safe investment. To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket—safe, dark, motionless, airless—it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.
Kamsahamnida, 현진. (Thank you, Hyunjin.)
So fast. Our days together went slow but the month went by fast.
Not too fast though. God’s timing is perfect and our times are in His hands. It’s like that Hangul printed artwork you made for us, and explained when I asked you what it said that it’s kind of hard to translate, but what it means is, Today also is a gift.
So kamsahamnida, Hyunjin. Thank you. Thank you for bringing out our best and doubling our joy as a son and brother and friend. Thank you for opening your courteous, gentle, Korean heart to us oft-times wild and willful Wallaces. Thank you for being so kind that your absence left a hole in our hearts. You humbled us in the best of ways.
And I’m really glad we read that book together, about crystals and stars and Virgil and Valencia and the pem. But the universe deserves no thanks for bringing us together.