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2017-10-31 17:30
By Lee Eung-tae



Every morning a black spotted cat crouches on the stone steps leading to the school campus, greeting the young female students, whose attentions become focused on his lovely antics. No one knows where he came from, but judging from his loving behavior, he must have had a loving owner. Instead of running away, he always walks gently to whomever comes near him and sweetly caresses the top of her foot. Whenever I see this communion between a cat and a young female student, I know that he simply wants to enjoy the kindness of the teenagers. I can empathize with the cat’s enjoyment of their company.

As their English and homeroom teacher, I think my life is filled with innumerable funny episodes with those children. An impromptu flag made by the class for the school’s Athletic Day became an unforgettable memory. A couple of days before the event, one of my students asked me to pose for a snapshot while I was talking with a colleague on a bench that provides a fine view of the city. I let her take the picture without giving it a thought, not suspecting any secret plan. When Athletic Day arrived, I was surprised to see my students waving a flag bearing a funny caricature of my face. How cute they are! Their fetching wit often amazes me.

My mouth broke into a huge grin when I spotted a notice on the classroom blackboard written by one of my students: “How to get more food in the school cafeteria: cast a spell on it.” Moving desks with the children during cleaning session is also one of my pleasures. Watching them dancing to deafening K-pop music, I have deluded myself into thinking that I am one of them. Despite the huge discrepancies in age, gender and interests, they permit me occasionally to join their company.

Their sincerity speaks for itself. Their cute and innocent behavior reminds me of Spencer Johnson’s short story, “The Present,” which we’ve read in an after-school class. In the story, the process of pursuing “the present” unfolds through a dialogue between a wise old man and a boy. The youth, who is obsessed with the joys of swinging and of mowing the lawn, is told by his old mentor that there is a present in life that is so precious that nothing can compare. “The present” is revealed as one that means both a “gift” and “the present moment.” In other words, the most precious gift that we can have is to focus on living in the present. Only then can we be at our happiest. The old man says when we focus on or are engaged in the work we do and the people we talk to, we elevate them by giving them the highest importance and we experience our happiest moments.

Treasuring the present moment is a simple, if a little mundane, lesson, but perhaps my students will grasp it when they are old enough. Focusing on whatever we need, want and love to do is the greatest, incomparable present we can give ourselves. I think I am now living the happiest moments of my life, or at least I try to feel so. And I am grateful to my young students for letting me be a part of their present moments, giving me a strong communal sense of loving bonds and making me smile whenever and wherever I encounter them. 


Lee Eung-tae (eungtae@gmail.com) is an English teacher in Miryang Girls' High School in South Gyeongsang Province.


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