Saturday, November 16, 2013

Defying the Law of Gravity

A pharmacist writing in the Bible  LIfe magazine recalls a time,15 years earlier, when he saw a woman selling beondegi  (steamed or boiled silkworm  pupae seasoned and eaten as a snack). She was the last in a long line of street vendors, and stood out from them by her youth and very attractive face and beautiful smile, and by being hunchbacked.

Every time he was in the area, although he didn't care for beondegi but moved by her situation and beautiful smile, he would stop to buy a bag. One day on passing by, he saw the woman hugging a small child who looked very much like her. It was the only time he had seen the child during the one year he had  walked passed, nor did he ever see a man by her side, who might have been the father. The woman selling vegetables next to her told him that one day a man appeared, made the child, and was never seen again. 

The women appeared to be sickly, and he heard that because of tuberculosis her right lung was removed.  She had been diagnosed in need of an operation, but because she had no one to take of her child, Neri, she delayed the operation until she collapsed and had to be taken to the emergency room of a hospital. The vegetable vendor, who was living by herself, took the child until the mother returned  from the hospital.

Even after she was released from the hospital, she had to spend six months in a sanatorium. The vegetable vendor had a stroke and Neri was taken by the  woman selling noodles. Neri would be sitting in the corner of the diner bustling with customers. The pharmacist felt sorry for the girl and arranged for her to spend her day in a study hall run by religious sisters. He would pick her up and bring her back to the diner in the evening. It was at this time that he heard that Neri had a gift for ballet. A teacher, noticing her innate talents and bodily flexibility, offered to give her ballet lessons.

In her third year of middle school, she had the opportunity of going to a high school devoted to the arts. But she would often miss her lessons. Along with her teacher, he would scold her. "I have leukemia," she replied. He did not want to believe her, but it was true.  For two years she was in treatment and with the anti-cancer drugs, she developed hip problems, was operated on, and the aftereffects brought the loss of feeling in her toes. Her doctor told her she would have to give up her dream of being a ballerina.

The mother tried everything: folk remedies as well as more conventional treatments. And she did finally get back the feeling in her toes, and last year was accepted in a college department for ballet.  The pharmacist would visit her as she  worked part-time outside the city, teaching women aerobatics, and in the evenings teaching health dancing to workers; her part-time work filled her with joy, she told him.  

Now, 15 years after the pharmacist first saw Neri's mother, she still has her beautiful smile but  no longer with only a tray selling beondegi. She now has a covered wagon and sells, along with the beondegi, rice cakes and rice wrapped in seaweed. The pharmacist ends his reminiscences with a quote from the economist Karl Polanyi: "Real truth is not the law of gravity but the bird who ignores the law and flies high into the sky."

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