Every Family Has a Story by Stella Kim

For my hero, umma.


In the summer of 1994, my mom emigrated from Seoul only with her two children: me and my brother, Joon. I often flip through timeworn photos of the day we left Korea – it’s one of those memories from childhood that you remember so vividly. I had unloaded a bag of toys my mom had packed for the long flight over to New York onto the floor at Kimpo Airport. I remember tending to these out of fear of looking up at all the relatives gathered to see us off – something seemed serious. In all photos, my mom has her arms crossed in front of her, her hands holding onto either elbow. It’s something she does to this day when she’s nervous or shy. Her face was round and plain, and her eyes were lowered, perhaps in sadness, modesty and anticipation. She was only 30, and the heartbreak in her beautiful face was not obvious but implicit. She was so strong.

Mom was a nurse at the largest university hospital in Seoul until her first child, my brother, was diagnosed with Autism. After almost a decade spent grappling with the broken institutions of special education and social perception in Korea, she and my father agreed to have some time with this distance between them, so that they can effectively provide another chance at life for Joon. It has been 25 years since then.

She barely spoke a word of English at the time. Another strong memory of mine is when mom would carry a Korean-English dictionary with her to help guide daily tasks, like finding places, filing paperwork for Joon, even ordering a meal for us at the local fast-food restaurant. The little blue book still sits in our home, although unused. I’ve tried to toss it with other dated belongings through each relocation and move, but she continues to take it with her as one of her very few sentimental objects. I’ve silently inferred that it reminds her of her beginnings, her wishes and hopes for us. This was how and when she became a woman.

Like many immigrant families, we were unable to travel home to see our relatives for about five years due to visa restrictions after arriving in America. I remember painfully missing my dad as a little girl and hurting every time he left us after a short visit. I look back now and wonder how mom must have felt – I realize regretfully, I’d never asked. In those five years, mom lost her own father but was unable to travel home for his funeral. Dad visited shortly after bringing with him a video cassette that documented the ceremony. We sat in front of the television that night, and this was the first time I remember seeing mom cry. It felt foreign to me - I cried, too, not knowing how else to sympathize.

Growing up, very tersely put, I was an emotional liability for my mom. I think any daughter can resonate when I say that our mothers are our best friends, sisters, favorite people, our toughest critics, and also at times, our worst enemies. Our relationships encompass every possible aspect of good and bad. For us, I am somewhat like the (stereotypical) eldest son in our family given my brother’s condition; I’m seemingly aloof at home, and I show affection in the oddest ways possible.

The first time I lived away from home was in university. The morning of the move, I recall expressing discontentment towards my mom about the amount of Korean ban-chan she was packing for me. I knew this was her figurative, unsaid way of saying she’ll miss me, and I don’t think I was ready to receive it. After the move, I hadn’t walked her and Joon back to the car, let alone to the lobby. I know she was (and still is) upset about this; she thought I was heartless.

I wish I could tell her now it’s because I couldn’t watch her go.


At 60, mom looks like what she is – a mother of two grown children, a mellow wife, and a woman who had spent most of her life providing. Despite the demeanor of a gentle woman, her wrinkled skin and graying hair shows the years of giving, of enduring. She wears no makeup and dresses humbly, as if she had decided some time ago that these are her vices. She looks to me and Joon as steady sources of strength. She expects so little from this life and continues to amass the weight, as if she is not already overwhelmed. Her greatest wish in life is to delay her passing, enough so, to not leave Joon behind for me to care for alone. Sometimes, I find that unbearable.

This year, I gave my mom a card with flowers and a gift a few days before Mother’s Day. Gift-giving always becomes an awkward moment between us (and I write this with a smile on my face). I handed her everything in the kitchen, and she received without looking me in the eyes and thanking me almost inaudibly. She stood at the counter reading the card in her nightgown as I shied away into my room. I looked back and saw her holding onto her elbows again. She seemed smaller than I always remembered her to be.

I wish I could give her more, and I wish she would take it all without apology. I wish I could tell her that she has the right to dream, not for us, but for herself. I wish I can help her retrieve her youth and feel all the feelings again. I wish I can tell her, without reservation, that I love her.

And maybe we’ll all never feel satisfied with the little we give back, but here is to trying. Behind every mother, there is a story of sacrifice and grace.

Happy Mother’s Day, umma. Every day should be yours.

Prelude by Stella Kim

I haven’t written in a while despite the requests to do so .. I think it becomes more and more difficult as you find yourself becoming increasingly jaded by the daily work you do – you lose the drive and spark to keep up with extracurriculars. I’m not exactly sure what has compelled me to put pen to paper again these past few days, but I felt a strange need to ruminate aloud and share with you.

I’ve always wanted to write a series on my special family. I’ve tried countless times in the past, but always scrapped everything and pushed it aside. There are too many feelings associated with family… I never thought I can express it all with my rudimentary parlance; I find myself falling headlong into the vortex of whirling thoughts, and I grope for the proper words. Some of us cry when we talk about our parents, especially more so as Korean-American immigrants (or as offspring of immigrants in general). I think that the more we do so, the more we feel we haven’t done enough for them. There’s never a way to do it any justice – there will never be a way we sacrifice as much as they had for us.

But for now, draft eighty is being revisited and is to come very soon. I hope it tickles a little need in you to tell your family you miss them today - and everyday.

우리 (ou-ri) by Stella Kim

stella_uktravels

It’s been so many years since then.
Our conversations are much slower –
unabashedly wistful, subtly apologetic.

Now, we are much simpler; not as eager to be appropriate.
We’re no longer waiting on the other with an air of expectancy; but instead, we find a peculiar sense of consolation within our shared reminiscences.
It feels so warm.

We are sentimental, but relaxed. Our uncertainties remain, but there may be complacency there in the vagueness -- we simply speak what we think and earnestly hope the words will impart. If and when they do, we smile without inhibitions. 

Time’s passed, and it’s the first time in so many years
that love (or perhaps, life) feels gentle. We feel at peace.

You’ve never been more beautiful
than what your smile reflects now.


찰나와 같아
참 따뜻하고 찬란했던
우리의 첫 사랑.

Travels & Perspectives by Stella Kim

We go away and travel because we have a place to come back to; and when we do come back, we come with new eyes and a wider spectrum of colours. Wherever we go becomes a part of us, and our stories set in different locales give us character. Traveling breathes fresh life into the present, and the new energy never goes unnoticed. 


--- August in Berlin

 
"What is the world like when it is experienced, developed and lived from the point of view of difference and not identity? That is what I believe love to be... [it] invents a different way of lasting in life... everyone's existence, when tested by love, confronts a new way of experiencing time." - Alain Badiou, In Praise of Love

"What is the world like when it is experienced, developed and lived from the point of view of difference and not identity? That is what I believe love to be... [it] invents a different way of lasting in life... everyone's existence, when tested by love, confronts a new way of experiencing time." - Alain Badiou, In Praise of Love

Y0013911.jpg

 

--- September in Amsterdam

This fleeting moment, this bliss - I wish I could take it away in my pocket and retrieve it time and time again. If it was in a children's book, it would feel good to turn the page and see it.

This fleeting moment, this bliss - I wish I could take it away in my pocket and retrieve it time and time again. If it was in a children's book, it would feel good to turn the page and see it.

 

--- September in London

“When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.” - Henri Nouwen

“When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.” - Henri Nouwen

Relationships, to me, are what give value to life. 

 

A gentle reminder to appreciate what we've experienced, who we have, and what we will encounter in the future.

We lean forward to the next venture between us, as we stay youthful at heart, always.

 

**

All photos by Young Min Kim
http://www.ym-kim.com/

YM is a professional photographer and visionary with a Master’s in Photography from Pratt Institute, New York.  He currently resides in London, where he collaborates with various brands on (including, but not limited to) fashion and lifestyle projects. He often travels the continent to document the lives of individuals in their most intimate locales. He sees beauty in candid vulnerability, and he hopes that you and I learn to appreciate it together, too.

Follow his latest, here: http://instagram.com/youngminfoto

 

For my best friend, Jiwon.

Le Film Mag Interview: Stories by Stella Kim

A fun little project done with the newly launched Le Film Magazine.

I wanted to share my story for the first time and open up a larger discussion around inner beauty/confidence, while reflecting on my own learnings. 

I hope my feelings & sentiments come across in these short interviews... and I want you to know that you are never alone. 

A Sunday in New York


Short Pt. 1 - "New York"


Long Pt. 2 - "Everyone has a story to tell"