Halmeoni's Guide to Long Living
Whenever my halmeoni would say "어휴 빨리 죽어야지… 빨리 죽어야지.. 안돼."* (as if responding to things that she has witnessed recently that I could only surmise) I would --after the initial pang as my menage of conflicting cultural understandings around death are sorted out-- be confused as to what she means by "빨리" here. It could stand for "soon" (the instinctive interpretation) or for "quickly". If it's the first, then I'm back into cultural limbo as to how to interpret this natural part of life that she speaks of so nonchalantly. If it's the latter, then I suppose it makes total practical sense. Even during the times that we lived together three and a half years ago, stories of elongated and painful final stages in life would reach us that would make anyone wish for a quicker end.
Yesterday morning, though, I was talking to my mom while they were out in the park. I wasn't able to talk to halmeoni because she was already way over there ("할머니 벌써 저기 계신다, 야"**), but mom told me that halmeoni walks briskly around the park five or six times every morning (while no one is there, since others come out in the afternoon). And she said that when it comes to being careful around handling packages and groceries (i.e. potentially COVID-contaminated things), there is no one more careful or attentive than halmeoni. And then, of course, I know that my halmeoni has been eating her favorite --고기 (meat) -- well, and that she's been critically watching news, condemning Trump for his idiocy.
I take my halmeoni's actions as confirmation to what kind of 빨리 she's been meaning all along.
My halmeoni gives me hope for life.
* Interpretation: "Oy, I/one need(s) to die soon/quickly… gotta die soon/quickly, it's no good otherwise" ** Interpretation: "Halmeoni's already over there." Ever since I started thinking in English I've always wondered at how in Korean, at least in certain elder generations, one can express certain such spaces and times so abstractly, without the need for any more detail, and that's that.