Last night I was just about to sit down and write my daily blog update when my Taiwan colleague called. “Hey,” he said, “I’m leaving town tomorrow. Can you join me for one last drink?” I couldn’t resist. Until then I had had a pretty quiet night at home. I went to buy a garden hose and sprinklers to water our newly verdant lawn, and I made myself dinner for the first time in an eternity. I cleaned up the house a bit—there’s now only a couple of leftover boxes to put away (I’ve been trying to do a little bit each day). It was a quiet night until I went out. We shared beer and lemon soju, a concoction that tasted suspiciously like lemonade. One of the Americans, a big, burly man, had all of us rolling with laughter the whole evening. We had a lot of fun, and I met a few other Americans living here in Seoul, but if he hadn’t called I would have been perfectly happy staying home and domesticating.
Yesterday’s weather was blustery, and I took some time to watch wind blow blossoms from the flowering cherry trees. Cherry blossoms are a gorgeous sight in any weather, but the inclement weather heightened their mystique. White cherry blossom petals gusted on the wind like freshly fallen snow. Petals carpeted the ground around my home, and for a moment I marveled at the whitish scene surrounding me. I was standing in the midst of a dusting of cherry snow. The scene drew me in, forcing me to stop out from my hectic life and admire the delicate swirl of wind-blown petals covering the dark grey sky.
After work today I went with some colleagues to help at Gabrielle House, a home for orphaned and abandoned children with severe physical handicaps. What beautiful children! Many are trapped in unforgiving bodies, hidden from society but loved nonetheless by those dedicated to helping them live normal lives. Their spirits are so inspiring. We played with them and fed them dinner. I fed a teenage girl and sang her some cheerful songs. She could not talk to me, but I could tell by the twinkle in her eyes and squeals of delight that she really enjoyed being fed by a foreign guy in a suit as he sang her endearing favorites such as “John Jacob Jingle Heimer Schmidt” and “Old McDonald had a Farm.” I love to sing, but I rarely have an audience, let alone a receptive one. The kids really seemed to enjoy it—at least none of them broke into tears at the sound of my voice. I played tag with a boy and gave another a long piggyback ride. I passed around many a “high-five.” We scrubbed the floors on which many immobile children lay all day, and we entertained them for a couple of hours. I wish I could have stayed longer, but we needed to head home after a long day at work. I am so glad I had a chance to spend a little time with these children. I picked up one boy about the same size as my son and cradled him in my arms. He was so light and fragile! I really miss my little boy, and it was a pleasure to hold a boy not unlike my own. It made me so happy to recall one of the many joys of fatherhood. It also made me thankful for my own son’s health. This boy now too has a special place in my heart. We plan to volunteer at Gabrielle House more often. If you live in Seoul and are interested in volunteering at Gabrielle House, post a comment with your E-mail address and I’ll tell you more about how you can volunteer.
Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was elected Pope Benedict XVI today. It was a strange sight seeing a new face on the balcony overlooking St. Peter’s Square. Cardinal Ratzinger was Pope John Paul II’s chief theological advisor and doctrine enforcer for over two decades, a fact that has already been overanalyzed by the media. What is considered one of Christendom’s highest offices has been too heavily defined in political terms. The Vatican’s leadership has always has its political element, but one of Pope John Paul’s main legacies has been the church’s renewed focus on faith. Rather than celebrating the election of a new pope, the analysts and spin doctors are focusing on the political ramifications of Ratzinger’s election and studying the tea leaves to decide whether he will be good or bad for the Catholic Church. It’s unfortunate that Pope Benedict XVI’s honeymoon with the media has already been cut short by media dissection. Any newly-elected leader, including the Pope, deserves a honeymoon period before judgment is passed on their political efficacy. Ratzinger is 78 years old. Pope John Paul II was 84 when he passed away. Because of his age, Ratzinger is unlikely to have a long reign as pope. As a result, speculation on his impact on the church is much too premature. Pope John Paul I reigned less than one year as pope (1978). In my humble opinion, Pope Benedict XVI should receive a warm welcome and be given a chance to reign as in peace for at least a short period of time.