Back in 2009, when the Korean singer-songwriter Yozoh was a student at the Seoul Institute of the Arts, she published a heartfelt column in the school’s student newspaper — dedicated to her younger sister whom she had lost to a tragic accident.
It was in August 2007, when an industrial crane being used at a construction site near Cheongnyangni subway station in Seoul, Korea toppled over and crushed the platform where passengers had been waiting for the train to arrive. This accident ended up killing two people, including Yozoh’s sister.
Yozoh calmly explained, in the piece titled “The Shining Discovery of Today and Self”, that the loss of her 8-years-younger sister has taught her to re-think life — and to live it like she has never before. And the column — the letter from the bottom of her heart — went like this. Perhaps it will help you re-think life as well:
One summer day, my sister and I spent the night talking, tucked under the coziness of my blanket. Soo Hyun was a senior in high school and I was twenty-seven. The eight years age difference never really meant anything to us though. She had her way with numbers, so she had gone on to study mathematics in high school. A month into her senior year, however, she declared that she would like to pursue photography. Our parents opposed as strongly as they could, but eventually gave in. It had been four months since she finally got her hands on her own camera.
She said, “Unni, I want to apply to Chung Ang University. But their school of photography isn’t on the Seoul campus. It’s in the suburbs. It’s not going to be easy commuting from home. What do I do?” I answered, “Well, then you and I can move out so we’re closer to the school. I’ll work on my album. Once I release it and make enough money out of it, I’ll buy us a car to give you rides.” She scoffed, “Good luck telling mom that we’re going to get a place of our own.” I reassured her, “Don’t worry. I’m the one who eventually convinced her to let you pursue what you want, remember? Just think about where we should start looking so it isn’t too hard for you to get to your school and for me to get to mine.”
The next day, Soo Hyun stepped out, telling me that she’ll be at Cheongnyangni station to take some pictures. I vaguely remember handing her some cash, just in case. And that night, she bid farewell to this world in an accident at the station.
I have always needed her in my life. Perhaps it may have been because I like egg whites and she liked egg yolks. Perhaps it may have been because I like chicken breasts and she liked drumsticks; and that meant we could order a whole chicken and finish it without battling it out. And though there had been days when the only words between us would consist of “Mom said it’s dinner time” — and though there had been days when I would want to punch her in the face for taking my clothes without my permission, she was my sister and I needed her no matter what.
Yet Soo Hyun lost her life for no reason at all, crushed under an industrial crane — when all she wanted was to take pictures at the station. So many people visited the hospital. The police came. The construction company associates came. The Korean metro associates came. The press came. The funeral took eleven days, when three is usually more than enough. It was hell and I was exhausted. It had been my mother’s comment that shattered me to pieces though. “Had I not let her pursue photography, Soo Hyun wouldn’t have died.” I climbed up to the roof every night and thought about what had happened. And I shriveled up in pain, knowing I can’t keep the promises I’ve made to her the night before she died. She could not attend Chung Ang University anymore. We could not get our own place around Sadang station. I could not give her rides, no matter how much money I make and how fancy of a vehicle I buy. Nothing could be done, nothing could be changed.
Life had to move on though. When the rest of us returned home, we had to survive. My mother made breakfast every morning as usual. My father went to work every day as usual. I had to sing “Banana Party” at a performing. I had to smile. It was a new beginning of another kind of suffering. And the whole time, I thought about the concept of tomorrow. Whenever someone asked me about my plans “for tomorrow”, I answered, “Tomorrow? How would I know. I could be dead before then.”
Likewise, after the loss of my sister, I had become possibly the most pessimistic person on the face of the planet. Death no longer meant something to prepare for in the far future. Death was in my face, constantly confronting me. Death didn’t scare me anymore — and I lived like I had no tomorrow. I used up all my money. I ate whatever I felt like eating. I drank a lot and smoked a lot. Yet I could not stop thinking about this “Tomorrow”. I thought about why God took my one and only sister away from me. I thought about the dawn she and I saw on the day she died. I thought about her death. I thought about my mother’s cry that she wouldn’t have died had it not been for photography. There must be something to come from it all. I had to learn something from this tragedy; it must change my life some how. Otherwise, I could neither admit nor accept that Soo Hyun was gone forever.
Over the next year and half, I began to understand Soo Hyun’s death and the lesson that I had to take away from it. And the lesson is, perhaps, the most cliché. It is the obvious truth that we all know in our hearts but never acknowledge. It is the discovery of “Today” and myself in the day. It is truly nothing — but it is also a concept that I could only fully grasp after losing my sister. Live the day at hand to the fullest. And that is my message to you.
I hope you don’t torture yourself for tomorrow. Eat what you want. Buy what you want. Meet that one person whom you keep pushing off for maybe next time. I hope, if you make a thousand dollars, that you don’t save eight hundred of it. I hope you save only five hundred of it — so that you could spend the other five hundred on eating what you want, buying what you want, and meeting that person whom you miss. I want you to spend it on living today…
… I believe my mother had been wrong when she said Soo Hyun would not have died if she decided not to pursue photography. No. I believe she must have been happy because she had her camera with her. I bet she had been happy because she was taking pictures at the station, like she wanted. I don’t doubt for a second that she was happy until the very moment she died… And like her, I’m going to do what makes me happy and sing songs and write music. Today, tomorrow, the day after tomorrow — until the day I die. I wish you would do the same for yourselves.
I hope you find happiness today, because tomorrow doesn’t even matter.