I had a great workout tonight. I pushed myself to a new level, and on the way down from hiking the stairs in my apartment building, I grabbed my recycling to take it out and sort. It was so nice outside that I decided to go for a walk. I tucked my emptied recycling bag under my arm and crossed the street to the pretty side. After a few minutes I came to a small playground. There are playgrounds all over the place, but I never play on them. I've never seen Korean adults on the playgrounds before and I worry that it might be taboo.
The playground was empty, though, and the swings beckoned. "Denice," they whispered, "come for a ride. Don't worry what others will think." I'd been silencing temptation all day. Silence donuts! I do not need your delectably glazed calories. See as I wisely eat this banana instead. Silence open window just big enough to throw first graders out of! Sway dejectedly in the wind as I take a deep breath and count to five before reacting. Silence movie theater! I reject your comfy seats and buttery popcorn. Tonight I will shadow box and lift weights while I watch 'The Biggest Loser' on my laptop.
Swings - you win. Here I come.
I set my recycling bag on a bench, preliminarily tested the strength of the swing, and took flight. I love swinging. I've always loved swinging. Many a neighborhood swing set has found itself the focus of my retreat from stress or sorrow. It's my sanctuary. It's my happy place. My legs pumped in a slow rhythm, marked by the squeaky chain keeping my pace. Air stroked my face and arms and I was grateful.
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you for this moment. Thank you for the strength that's been lent me today. Thank you for my amazing life, for my family, for my job. Thank you for truth in abundance, for joy, and for beauty. Thank you for friendships. Thank you for solitude. Thank you for 10 flights of stairs. Thank you for peanut butter.
"Squeak," said the swing.
"Thank you," said I.
And then I wasn't alone on the playground anymore. A young Korean woman was walking into the sand. She was wearing workout clothes and carrying a cloth bag. She set her bag on the bench, next to mine, and set herself in the swing next to me. I was surprised. As I said, I'd never seen Korean adults on playground equipment before. When she stepped onto the playground I'd sooner expected a scolding than a companion.
Quickly the pace of her swing joined mine. 'Squeak' 'squawk' 'Squeak' 'squawk' was the call and reply of our equipment.
I continued to enjoy the moment, already taken back by the similarity of our situations, when she began to whisper to herself in Korean.
My Korean is bad and I understood very little, but I did understand one word - over and over: 'Kamsahapnida'. Thank you.
Maybe she was praying. Maybe she was practicing a monologue. Maybe she was vocally thanking the universe for every moment that the swing set didn't buckle and collapse under the weight of the large foreigner in the other swing. I have no idea.
I am tickled by this, though, and I'll tell you exactly why. I love Korea. I love a thousand things about it, but I don't connect with it. I don't relate to the Korean culture, and it's very rare that I relate with Korean people beyond surface interchanges. So now I'm tickled by this new idea. I have this silly thought that there is a Korean me, that for over two decades we grew up on opposite sides of the world, in opposite cultures, but that we still turned out the same. For over two years we've been living across the street from each other without any idea. Tonight, we shared a swing set.
And I hope that right now she's at home, writing a blog in Korean about how tickled she is at the idea that tonight she shared a swing set with the American her.