In the Arms of peace

To be plunged in just a few hours from the shimmering serenity of rice fields , incredibly green, tipped with the light of a perfect Korean morning, to Kimpo Airport, is enough to leave one visibly shaken.

What was I doing in Korea? As one of almost two hundred "foreigners" who had , for six days, attended the Fourth World Congress of Poets in Seoul, I was not carrying, in my mental "baggage" a richness of experience, a warmth, that would stay with me a long time. But now that the congress was over, the bus from the hotel was dropping us, unceremoniously, at the curb of Kimpo Airport.

All the porters were busy and luggage had to be lifted and somehow gotten inside. At the sight of the interior, I felt faint. such a roiling of humanity and unbearable clamor! There seemed to be no such things as a small amount of luggage -- only huge suitcases, enormous bundles, boxes, packing cases -- and the shapeless line moving by fractions.

Too busy inching along in my line, fending off those who tried to insert themselves and their luggage in front of me without regard to proper procedure, wanting only the blessed moment when my turn would come to stand at the counter, my papers in order, my luggage removed to the inner sanctum where it would be sent to its destination, I had not noticed the mass of people who surged against a restraining chain.

Released at last from the line, I did take note of them, three and four deep against the length of the chain.

"Why are they waiting there?" I asked a companion.

"Some come to see a family member off but most just come to stand and stare, especially at foreigners. They enjoy the excitement and the noise and bustle. They may stand there for hours."

Then, instead of hurrying on to the area where passengers waited for our plane, I suddenly stood frozen, actually cold in all that heat and humidity, unable to move from that spot.

On the hard, cement floor, centered in the throng behind the chain, sat a gaunt-faced woman of indeterminate age. In the hollow of her lap, and seeming to float in it like the bud of a lotus flower, lay a sleeping infant, with a face so exquisite, so serene, that for a moment I felt that familiar blow between the eyes which comes when something in nature proves overwhelming.

As I looked down on the mother and child -- composed, impervious to the heat and the crush, as if surrounded by the silent peace of trees and shade -- my recent impatience fell away from me. The pushing and shoving ceased to have meaning. I was revived. I felt cleansed.

It is, of course, inevitable that I will forget some of the poets I met at the congress. The lectures, once heard, fade in the mind. Snapshots will remind me of the shrines, the museums, the treasures and glories of past kings of what was once Silla and is now Korea.

But the glimpse of that babe in Kimpo Airport is caught not only in my eyes but in something deep in my soul.

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