Happiness Was Born a Twin

Happiness Was Born a Twin

From Chicken Soup for the Military Wife's Soul

Happiness Was Born a Twin

Upon awakening every morning, I ask my higher power to use me for something greater than myself.

Oprah Winfrey

When my husband came home on a stormy February day and told me we were being transferred to Korea for a two-year tour of duty, the weather and my mood were a close match. I couldn’t imagine taking our five children so far away. Our oldest son was planning on entering a nearby college that fall, the baby was barely a year old, and the other children were doing well in school. Our family life was humming along nicely, and the thought of a transfer to Korea was frightening. I entertained the idea of remaining in the States while my husband served a “bachelor tour” for one year. But my husband was determined that we should go as a family. We tossed the ball of indecision back and forth for over a week, but, in my heart, I knew we belonged together. Reluctantly, I packed kids, dishes and household items, and we were off to the Far East.

When we landed sixteen hours later, culture shock took over. On the way to our compound, we saw naked children playing in the dirt by the side of the road, and curious women peeking out from tiny shacks. The odor of open sewers permeated the air, and I wondered if my decision to spend two years in this part of the world was a wise one. But our quarters were comfortable, and we began to settle in.

I had barely managed to unpack the dishes when Ann, our chaplain’s wife, called to see if I would accompany her to the Boc gum Wonn Orphanage. I really didn’t want to go, but, as none of the other women from the chapel volunteered, I agreed. Ann picked me up that afternoon. With our arms full of fish that she bought at the market, we bumped along as Joe, the medic, maneuvered the Jeep along the rutted roads.

“Boc gum Wonn is the poorest of the orphanages in Taegu,” Ann told me. “The children are those that no other orphanage will take.”

As the Jeep swerved in the curve of the road, Ann shook her head. “It’s sad to see, but the kids watch for us every week.” She pointed to a hill on our left. I glanced up and saw a row of tiny figures lined up like tin soldiers. They didn’t wave. They just waited.

As Joe and Ann unloaded the groceries and started up the hill, I hesitated. I knew I didn’t want to see what was inside that ramshackle building, but eventually I followed along. Inside, Joe held a tiny boy in his arms.

“I call him Little Joe,” he said, “because he waits for me every week. He can’t walk because he is too weak.”

The kids were dressed in thin shirts, in spite of the chilly October weather. The building was cold and damp, with dirt floors and cardboard in the windows to keep out the wind. The tiny building housed forty kids. Ann was handing out graham crackers to grasping hands, and I asked her why some of those children weren’t in the hospital.

“Unless they’re on the verge of death, they won’t accept them,” she told me. A little girl beside Ann asked for another cracker. Ann smiled, “Oh, this little girl I call Lulu because of Lulu in the funnies . . . you know, big round face and round, sad eyes”

And then I saw the saddest one of all. He was skin and bones, and reminded me of the figures my kids drew in kindergarten, the ones with lines for body, arms and legs—a stick figure. I nudged Ann.

“Why isn’t he in the hospital?” I asked in disbelief.

“Oh, he won’t live through the week,” she answered. I felt tears welling up and knew that I’d never make this trip again. The anguish was too much.

Through the next week, I kept myself busy organizing our house and getting to know our neighbors. But, at night, when we sat down for dinner, in my mind’s eye, I saw Lulu, Little Joe and the Stick Boy reaching out to me. And, the next week, I was beside Ann as she headed to the orphanage. This time, I was looking forward to handing out the crackers, and sliced oranges, too. I began writing to my church back home, asking for anything they could send that would help our orphans. A remarkable chain of events ensued. Our church contacted other churches, and, soon, our service porch was up to the ceiling with boxes from the States, boxes filled with warm clothing, canned goods, medical supplies, blankets and toys . . . all for our Boc gum Wonn Orphanage.

There were so many boxes that soon the White Lily Orphanage, run by the Catholic Church, also enjoyed the bounty that flowed into Taegu. Within a couple of months, my husband contacted CHOW (Christian Hope for Orphans of the World), and they sent boatloads of canned soups and medical supplies into Inchon. These were picked up by the Korean Air Force and flown into Taegu; all these goods were targeted not only for Boc gum Wonn, but also for other orphanages, hospitals and old-age homes. The following year, we were privileged to witness the opening of the new Boc gum Wonn orphanage, built by the city of Taegu for its poorest forgotten children.

Too soon, our two years were up, and, as we took off from Taegu, I realized that only by stepping out of my comfortable lifestyle had I been privileged to become a part of these other lives. As we headed home, I knew what Lord George Gordon Byron said was true: “All who joy would win, must share it. . . . Happiness was born a twin.”

Mary E. Dess

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