The Joy of Giving Food to Others

I have very small eyes. I am told that when I was born, my mother wondered, "Does my baby have eyes, or not?" and spread my eyelids apart with her fingers. Then when I blinked, she said with joy, "Oh my, yes. He does have eyes, after all!" Because my eyes were so small, people often called me by a nickname that meant "Osan's Little Tiny-Eyes." "Osan" was the name of my mother's hometown, and this was how people in our village commonly referred to her.

I cannot remember anyone saying, though, that my small eyes make me any less attractive. In fact, people who know something about physiognomy, or the art of understanding a person's characteristics and fortune by studying facial features, say that my small eyes indicate that I have the right disposition to be a religious leader. I think it is similar to the way a camera is able to focus on objects farther away as the aperture of its iris diaphragm is reduced. A religious leader needs to be able to see farther into the future than other people, and perhaps small eyes are an indication of such a quality. My nose is rather unusual as well. Just one look and it is obvious that this is the nose of a stubborn man that will not want to listen to what anyone else has to say. There must be something to physiognomy, because when I look back on my life these features of my face seem to parallel the way that I have led my life.

I was born at 2221 Sang-sa Ri (Village), Deok-eon District* Jeong-ju Township, Pyong-an Province as the second son of Kyung Yu Moon of the Nampyung Moon clan and Kyung Gye Kim of the Yeon-an Kim clan.

I was born on the sixth day of the first lunar month in 1920, the year after the 1919 independence movement. I was told that our family settled in the village of Sang-sa Ri during the life of my great grandfather. My great grandfather worked the farm himself, produced thousands of bushels of rice and built the family fortune with his own hands. He never smoked or drank liquor, preferring instead to use that money to buy food to give to those in need. When he died, his last words were, "If you feed people from all the regions of Korea, then you will receive blessings from all those regions." So the guestroom in our home was always full of people. Even people from other villages knew that if they came to our home, they could always count on being fed a good meal. My mother carried out her role of preparing food for all those people without ever complaining.

My great grandfather was so active, he never wanted to rest. If he had some spare time, he would use it to make pairs of straw footwear that he would then sell in the marketplace. When he grew old, he would buy several geese, let them go in the wild and pray that all would be well with his descendants. He hired a teacher of Chinese characters to sit in the guest room of his home and provide free literacy lessons to the young people of the village. People in the village gave him the honorific title "Sun-ok (Jewel of Goodness)" and referred to our home as "a home that will be blessed."

By the time i was born and was growing up, much of the wealth that my great grandfather had accumulated was gone, and our family had just enough to get by. The family tradition of feeding others was still alive, however, and we would feed others even if it meant there wouldn't be enough to feed the family members. The first thing i learned after i learned to walk was how to serve food to others.

During the Japanese occupation, many Koreans escaping the country to Manchuria would pass through Seon-cheon in North Pyong-an Province. Our home was located on the main road that led to Seon-cheon. People who had had their homes and land confiscated by the Japanese would pass by our home on their way to Manchuria, where they hoped to build new lives for themselves. My mother would always prepare food to feed the passers-by, who came from all parts of Korea. If a beggar came to our home asking for food, and my mother didn't react quickly enough, my grandfather would pick up his meal and take it to the beggar. Perhaps because I was born into such a family, I, too, have spent much of my life feeding people. To me, giving people food is the most precious work. When I am eating and I see someone who has nothing to eat, it pains my heart and I cannot continue eating.

I'll tell you something that happened when I was about eleven years old. it was toward the last day of the year, and everyone in the village was busy preparing rice cakes for the New Year's feast. There was one neighbor family, though, that was so poor they had nothing to eat. I kept seeing their faces in my mind, and it made me so restless that I was walking around the house wondering what to da Finally, I picked up an eight-kilogram bag of rice, and ran out of the house. I was in such a hurry to get the bag of rice out of the house that I didn't take so much as a piece of straw rope to tie the bag closed. I hoisted the bag onto my shoulders and ran along a steep uphill path for about eight kilometers to get to the neighbor's home. I was excited to think how good it would feel to give those people enough food so they could eat as much as they wanted.

The village mill was next to our house. The four walls of the millhouse were built well so that the crushed rice could not fall through the cracks. This meant that in winter it was a good place to escape the wind and stay warm. If someone took some kindling from our home's furnace and started a small fire in the millhouse, it became warmer than an ondol-heated room. Some of the beggars who would travel around the country would decide to spend the winter in that millhouse. I was fascinated by the stories they had to tell about the world outside, and I found myself spending time with them in the millhouse every chance I got. My mother would bring me my meals to eat in the millhouse, and she would always bring enough for my beggar friends to eat as well. We would eat from the same dishes, and share the same blankets at night This is how I spent the winter. When spring came, they would leave for faraway places, and I could not wait for winter to come again so they would return to our home. Just because their bodies were poorly clothed did not mean that their hearts were poorly clothed as well They had a deep and warm love that showed. 1 gave them food, and they shared their love with me. The deep friendship and warm love they showed me back then continue to be a source of strength for me today.

As I go around the world and witness children suffering from hunger, I am always reminded of how my grandfather never missed a chance to share food with others.