When we were little, we lived in Maryland, where weeping willows gracefully swept their branches over the ground and the air always had a spark of energy. The cicadas would cry out in their wailing voices, while on the pavement, little black, green, and white caterpillars squirmed on the sidewalks.
It is here I spent only a small fraction of my childhood, but also where I have some of my fondest memories. When I’m in a nostalgic mood, I often look back on these times and remember the little things that are recreated in my mind.
I remember my mother and father taking us outside, into the front yard one night. They wanted to show us the lightning bugs, they had said, and we squealed in excitement. In the backdrop of the dark night, the lights glittering around us felt like magic, and we had great fun leaping around, trying to catch those elusive lights in our hands.
Another time, we visited D.C., where the cherry blossoms looked like poufy cotton candies on trees, and the air was fresh and abuzz with excitement from the tourists. We took pictures with Asian “v” signs at the White House and drove around to see the biggest monuments, the cherry blossom trees swaying us along.
Even during the coldest winters, I remember we would all come together, as a family, and make huge grinning snowmen with sticks, snow, and carrots, have wars with our snow forts, and work together to shovel our car out of the driveway. We had a Christmas tradition of buying one of those 1000-piece puzzles and solving it together while drinking hot tea and cocoa, and we would bring out Korean BBQ and make sizzling scallion pancakes, along with other delicious delights, for our end-of-the-year meal.
I feel so blessed to have had this childhood – that I have something beautiful to look back on, and I am so grateful to have had these experiences. These experiences before I came to Harvard encapsulated me in this cocoon of love – I knew very little about the plights that others were going through all across the globe, and I was largely sheltered from things like sexual slavery, human rights violations in North Korea, and extreme poverty, even as my father, a senior pastor, would go on missions some summers for these causes. While I had felt the pain of losing a loved one, it was not until I came to college that I found many others, like me, who had gone through this grieving process that was a part of life, and so much more.
These past three years have been a very revealing time for me. I see the love that God has blessed me with, but I also have come to see people who have not felt love, and hear their story. This past summer, I listened to someone talk about their experiences about feeling love for the very first time after they escaped from North Korea. It is stories like these that inspire me to give love to others, much like I have received love from my family. Even throughout the school year, on this very campus, I have prayed with peers who have been struggling with deep family issues or cutting emotional pain from financial insecurities.
And yet, I often find myself only talking about loving others, putting others first, without truly acting on it. I have such big dreams about aiding those far away, in all sorts of countries, but I realize that many times, I overlook loving my neighbors around me.
What could be different if I stopped to comfort that stressed-out-looking girl in the dining hall at 12 AM? Or if I didn’t wait for people to approach me, but approached them instead? If I stopped focusing so much on myself, my applications, my future, and instead focused on God? Too many times I have fallen under the trap of my self-obsession. I realize also that loving someone doesn’t mean being there for them only in their toughest of times – it also means being a constant support for them, to love them and show them that they are valuable to me even in small things like grabbing a meal together or making time for them. How many times have I said, “Sorry, I have a ton of work to do today…” in response to an invitation from a friend?
Our Father has blessed us all with His love, and this ultimate, sacrificial, unconditional love can be seen through the relationships we form with friends here or the people He places in our lives. In a way, everyone is family, and while it can be easy to forget about this as I pursue my goals of getting into dental school, I want to try to express love to my family and share the love God has given me. I have to continually remind myself of this, that at the end is not success or financial stability, but a goal of glorifying God. It doesn’t have to be a grand gesture – moving to Africa or becoming a protection officer in China for North Korean defectors. It starts first with changing my heart and being able to reach out to those immediately around me. These past three years have been such a humbling, continual process that has been such a gift from God. Thus, while it is a blessing to be loved, it is an even greater blessing to pass this love onto others and to give even one moment of my day to put someone else first, whether it be a defector from North Korea or my friend who lives on this very campus. I pray for a humble and loving heart, one that can truly allow God’s love to enter in the way we interact with others in our lives.
“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
Jesus replied: “’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”