These are three simple snapshots of what others might call my “roots”: Korea, Appalachian (Blue Ridge) America, and the United Kingdom.
But for most of my life I have shied away from claiming rootedness in these three regions, because there were always people who belonged more securely to them than I, and I felt I couldn’t be counted on to be a reliable representative of any of them.
In North Carolina and Virginia I was too Asian in appearance to fit in; in Korea I was too American not to stand out, a “Twinkie” even in a community of international students. A family move in high school meant that I took zero years of American literature and two of British, launching a lifetime interest and a span of deeper study in that field — but though my heart-language is intertwined with its poetry and prose, I have no other ties to the UK, and I have yet to make a visit across the pond.
I’ve never relished standing at the intersection of multiple cultures. Perhaps the merged area of three circles in a Venn diagram seems like an enviable place to be, and perhaps it is, but it’s also a location that keeps its inhabitants bound to the periphery of each individual circle.
Moreover, I’ve often felt hesitant and daunted by turns when thinking about the kindred spirits I’ve found in each sphere. Can they cross over? Would the childhood friends I once played with at Price Park be interested in the Lake District and the North York moors? Can anyone else hear the same beautiful melancholy ringing through both Celtic music and the bittersweet perspective of older Korean storytellers? Sometimes the elements have felt so disparate that I haven’t even tried to spell out common threads that might make sense to both sides, doubting my perception most of all.
But strangely enough, in recent years — after a decade of learning more about the promised reality of God’s restoration and renewal of all things — I’ve developed a fresh readiness to examine my braided background more closely. None of this has been planned or calculated. The sacrificial love of Christ has given me a taproot in the soil of the New Jerusalem, and it is turning out to be an anchor that invites me to make sense of these three earthen threads.
In the process, I’m finding that it’s well worth delving this ground — not because I’m on a quest to “find myself,” but because I finally see the deep grace of a God who involves generations in planning the story of each soul so that His character and His glory might be better seen. I’ve begun to own that my life has been influenced and enriched by a thousand voices, settings, and stories that predate me: a laughing, wildflower-lined rill in a little North Carolina valley; the choices made by certain noblemen, farmers, and wartime Resistance workers in Korea; the force of lines from Hamlet that once drew me to stand on a chair and read them with gusto to an empty room. Together these occurrences have tilled my capacity to understand courage, yearning, and right emotion in the great story of the coming Kingdom. The longer I travel and look back across the landscape, the more I see that the Ancient of Days is indeed the Author and Perfecter of my faith.
C.S. Lewis wrote that he was “a product of long corridors, empty sunlit rooms, upstairs indoor silences, attics explored in solitude, distant noises of gurgling cisterns and pipes, and the noise of wind under the tiles. Also, of endless books.” (Surprised by Joy)
For my part, I am a product — and more than I suspected — of nuance and nunchi, music and myth, hushed library stacks, komorebi-splashed mountain paths, the travail of my forebears, and the humor and gravitas of literary imagination. Alone, these are mere fragments, often mixed among rubble and broken shards; sifted in the light of Home, they are mementos and keepsakes acting in reverse, revealing not what is lost but foreshadowing the fullness of the mercy I will meet face-to-face at the end of this life and the beginning of the new. They are lateral roots.
Through them, and especially through the main triad I’ve been mulling over, I hope to pull in a livelier awareness of the Living Water and the Light of the World this year, so that each detail and discovery opens the neglected capillaries a little more, and the small branch to whom much has been given may yield good fruit.