I dreaded my birthday this year. Not because I didn’t want to celebrate, but because I knew that turning 18 meant that it was time for me to serve. As if someone had been counting the days down, my physical examination letter was sent to my home in Korea.
This didn’t come as a surprise. South Korea requires that all able-bodied male citizens serve in the armed forces for at least 18 months. Why? Because we live in a war-zone next to one of the world’s biggest nuclear arsenals controlled by a man with anger management issues.
“You’ll be fine! Everyone has to do it,” my cousin reassured me. “Look at me. I came out fine!” But those comments brushed right off me. I didn’t want to admit it, but I was scared.
Don’t misunderstand me: there is an incredible honor and value in serving one’s country, and I revere the veterans who have sacrificed their lives for my freedom. But the life that I will be placed into feels foreign from my current life.
I feel I have been woken up from this dream I call Deerfield.
A few days ago, I found an article about a South Korean losing his legs to a landmine. In that image, I pictured myself with a shaved head, in uniform, waking up at 6:30 a.m., practicing in teargas drills,, and losing a limb.
My life used to be filled with trivial worries: When am I going to find time to study for my tests?, Does my shirt match my tie and sweater?, and I need to order the feed for my proctees.
I felt ashamed as I considered my worries and complaints; they seemed like products of privilege. Just categorizing these as worries further embarrassed me. But even my future worries seemed to be dwarfed by others.
This break, I found a New York Times article about the Russian government bombing a Syrian camp. A video showed a boy bleeding from his head, his dad embracing him, as others in the back rushed the severely wounded to the ambulance. In their faces, I saw confusion. I saw fear. And, once again, I imagined myself in their shoes. They were paying the consequences for a conflict that they had no choice in and looking for reason in a world that had failed them. I am not asking that you find comfort in the misery of others. Rather, I am begging you to consider the blessings you have. All of us have been blessed to live our lives in such privilege.
So, next time you find yourself complaining, please look for the things to be grateful for in your life and constantly remind yourself of them, for your reality may be someone else’s dream.