Mercy / by Emma Mead

I've watched the Jeong Kwan Chef's Table episode three times now. I have a feeling that if you're reading this blog, you're also someone who has already watched it or can't wait to get a moment to binge on the new season. Well, I was so struck by this episode for so many reasons. As a young girl, Jeong Kwan had a robust desire for freedom. Freedom from the path of marriage and wife-dom most Korean women in her generation would take. She told her father that when she was older, she would live all alone and free in the mountains.

When she was 17, her mother passed away suddenly. Devastated and in pain, Jeong Kwan disappeared without telling a soul and became a monk that same year. She soon found herself living out her childhood dream of being alone and free in the mountains. There's much more to the story but you'll watch it and see. There is a moment after she tells her story when she smiles and says "My mother granted me the opportunity to enter this temple. Even today, I thank her for her mercifulness and her compassion for allowing my pursuit of the freedom."

Upon hearing this, tears poured down my face. Something that was frozen in me began to melt. Rivers that had long dried been up began to surge. In that moment, all I felt was deep love and gratitude for sweet Eliza. For months I'd been skirting photos I have of her in my phone, I would freeze up when her name was mentioned... I've been afraid to talk to her, to thank her, to celebrate her with my whole heart because in doing so- I would also have to feel the grief that has dogged me since she died.

Because of my Big Book of Things That Make Me Feel Better, I know how important it is to be as fluid as possible when feeling deeply. As much as I feel deeply, all I want is to feel lightly. a balance I have not yet accomplished. I am always trying to be more okay with being vulnerable, leaning into fear, recognizing that courage is quiet and intimate and even so, I have far, far, far to go in my journey. I knew how important it was to grieve for my friend, for everything her death brought up in me. I knew not to postpone feeling difficult things for comfort's sake but it was too scary, too much and I didn't let myself go there. So my body (as it often does) compensated for me. It bent me in half, laid me low and took me away from everything I knew. But I truly believe that it did this with deep love and a desire to gently direct my sails. My therapist once observed that I had difficulty trusting my body. I think my mind and body and soul are finally able to find some common ground. Crisis gifted me that.

Viewing my life like Jeong Kwan views hers- I like to think that in a way, Eliza gave me the merciful gift of freedom. Freedom from a life that perhaps I was not meant to be living. Freedom to learn how to be alone, how to be with the rawness of mortality I've often avoided. I've spent so many existential years trying to prepare myself for the terrifying yet inevitable event of loved ones dying. It's such a human conundrum to be aware of death and such a western conundrum to be afraid of it. There's no preparing for it. When it happens there's only living through it and being as close to it with your whole heart as you can be. And... it isn't easy, it's Life. And Life refuses to be categorized into easy and hard, good or bad... right, wrong... Life is Life... and be with it while it's here is all we can do.

Eliza in the orchards at the Genesee Country Museum, two summers ago.

Eliza in the orchards at the Genesee Country Museum, two summers ago.

I realize that much of the sickness of Soul is born of grief frozen before it can become praise. I also know that time really does heal. That granting yourself time to heal is not a luxury but a necessity. I know that without the love of dear friends, family and the compassion of strangers I wouldn't have survived. I spoke once of being sifted. Well, the golden shining gems that the Universal Sieve dreged up in me were these:

I survive by the love and connection of those who love me and whom I love.

I am healed by laying under big oak trees, cushioned by green, green grass and lullabied by bird songs and the sounds of wind through leaves; By the peace of a fresh snowfall and the blue of the sky and warmth of the sun.

I will build my artist homestead somewhere beautiful. I'll walk dewy gardens early in the morning and greet the chickens running around. I'll keep spaces for humans like me who need time and space to heal and create. That is the one dream that stayed with me through it all and it is what I have my sights set on for where I go next.