Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Home Is Where The People Are

When I was seven years old, my mother and father enrolled me in Taekwondo classes. I was horrified. My only experience with martial arts was at the YMCA in my town; the instructor was loud, the floor was cold tile, and I was scared out of my mind three quarters of the time. So when my mom told me that I was going to be a student at Shin’s Taekwondo, I kicked (no pun intended) and screamed all the way to my first class. But my experience at Shin’s was completely different; I found the atmosphere welcoming— the dark blue carpet covering a large, high-ceilinged room, the three different flags (one for the United States, another for South Korea, and the third for the World Taekwondo Federation), the mirror covering one wall, the kicking pads and targets stacked in the corner… I can recall almost everything about that school. But this is not one of the places I would call home; that place is across the street from where Shin’s used to be.

Shin’s moved to a different location when I was about eleven years old. It was smaller, probably a third of the size of the original gym, but it had the same carpet, the same three flags, and the same kicking pads. There was even a long, floor length mirror on the wall opposite the flags. Eventually, one of the walls would be knocked down (the business next door shut down), and the school expanded. It is this image, the one of the expanded school, that I will always remember.

I spent three to four days per week training in that gym. I took countless belt tests, participated in and even taught hundreds of classes, and broke enough wood to last a dozen winters. When I close my eyes, I can see every square inch of that Taekwondo school— where the two bathrooms are, the three storage closets, the flags, the doors leading into the training area. But at the end of the day, it’s just a building, just some wood and bricks piled together with a roof on top. The real reason I can call that Taekwondo school home is because of the people.

I met, trained with, taught, and was taught by so many people during my years as a Taekwondo student. I made friendships with people, connecting with them on an entirely different level. Proverbs 27:17 says, “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” I needed the friends I made; I needed their encouragement, their support, and their laughter. I needed their critiques and their insights, and I can only hope I impacted my friends as much as they impacted me. For me, home was the people I shared my life with at Taekwondo class. It was about the relationships and familiar faces, the satisfaction of watching someone finally understand a technique and watching it “click.” It was truly the people I saw who made that place a home. I will never forget the incredible journey I had there, and I hope I can continue that journey someplace else… with a few familiar faces along the way.

In Love and Longing in Bombay, Chandra plays with the idea of homecoming, especially in his first story, “Dharma”. Jago Antia has spent most of his life away from his house; being in the military can have that effect. His homecoming was not a happy one because of the memories he has of home. For years, the Major General tries to escape his past by running away and not looking back. Outwardly, he becomes extremely successful, winning acclaim and recognition from many people, especially his troops. Yet, underneath that trained, tough exterior, he carried around the ghost of his past.

While the ghost only appears in his old home, Jago Antia carries such guilt with him. Therefore, his homecoming is so significant because he is forced to deal with his ghost. This man, who was brave enough to cut off his own leg, finally comes face to face with the thing he fears most in the world. At first, I thought the ghost was his brother; Chandra writes in such a way that I believed Jago Antia’s ghost was the brother he killed. His storytelling is so brilliantly clever—I especially enjoyed how the climax was at the very end of the story; it makes the twist that much more impacting.

For Jago Antia, his home centered around a memory and the people living in the home. He did not want to go back because of fear; he feared his parents with their disappointing looks and he feared the memories of his childhood. My experience is the opposite—I cherish my memories of the Taekwondo school, and I especially remember the people I trained with. Both the memories and the people have helped to shape me, just as Jago Antia’s memories and the people in his life helped to shape him. But we cannot keep our past bottled up inside. We must face our ghosts eventually. As William James said, “Be not afraid of life. Believe that life is worth living, and your belief will help create the fact.”

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