Like many around the world, I was hurt at the loss of a loved one from this pandemic. When I heard the news on Saturday, August 28 at 9:49 am Korea Standard time, I was about to head out to go hiking. I still went as a way to grieve and mourn the loss of a beloved family member. A week before I received the news that she caught COVID-19 and was on a ventilator in Mobile, Alabama. I was in shock and couldn’t believe it caught up to someone I knew personally. Then on Friday, August 27 around 7:49 pm Central Standard Time, my sister called me with the official news that she passed….
I knew that staying in my apartment wouldn’t help anyone let alone myself. So I packed my bag, ordered some gimbap from a local gimbap(similar to a Korean burrito except the rice, egg, and veggies are wrapped in seaweed) restaurant, and headed for the trail.
I climbed the Eungbongsan(San is Korean for mountain) Mountain Loop in Bugu, a small rural coastal area in Uljin South Korea. Uljin is a small countryside beach town where I currently reside and work as an ESL teacher. The Korean peninsula is known for its numerous hills and mountains. Hiking in South Korea is a popular activity that many participate in. There are hundreds of trails so South Korea is an outdoor lover’s paradise.
The mountain is 998.5 meters(or roughly 3275 feet ) and it helped me improve somewhat mentally and emotionally from the loss. It takes on average 6-7 hours to complete the entire loop. There are two routes anyone can take. I chose the right side and went on my way.
I walked for about 2 hours without taking the time to fully rest and recover my energy because I was full of energy and stamina. That energy and stamina were unfortunately full of rage. Rage against the virus and the pandemic that has caused so much pain to billions around the world. Rage against the anti maskers and anti-vaxxers in the state of Alabama where my aunt was from.
How can people be so stupid and selfish to walk around without a mask that can protect themselves and others? I’d asked myself. If this amount of rage continued I could’ve been a Red Lantern, possibly been blinded by rage like Kratos from God of War, or even empowered by the Dark Side of the Force…..look I’m the Blerd(Black Nerd) Explorer, I have to make a geekdom reference somewhere.
I had the most rage against my family members with such intensity. My aunt lived with my grandmother (her mom) in her house for many years and was in a sense a caretaker for the family. She would watch me, my sister, and the many cousins while our parents were at work. She would feed us, play with us, and seemed to not have a care in the world. Unfortunately, she had numerous pre-existing conditions. Almost all of the conditions were sadly, tied to her weight from being very obese. She had battled diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, kidney stones, and possibly others I’m not aware of. And like those with pre-existing conditions, she didn’t have much of a chance and the virus took her. This would’ve been where I tried to bargain and pray for her to recover but I knew if she would get infected with Covid and combine that with having pre-existing conditions, her chances weren’t great.
Hiking up about ¼ of the trail I would ask myself many questions. How could my family members be so careless and stupid? How could she have contracted the virus? Is it possible that my family, whenever they came over, didn’t wear a mask and would not socially distance? Or was it her fault if she didn’t wear a mask whenever she went out to the store? Whose at fault for her death? There were so many questions I had as I climbed this difficult trail.
As mentioned before I felt the rage the most to my family in Alabama. Before and during covid, I would talk to my family through Facebook messenger via my sister. During the pandemic, I saw how my grandmother, aunt Vette, other cousins, aunt’s, and other folk gather around talking and being themselves. Throughout the pandemic every time I saw them, not one was wearing a mask nor social distancing. I always wanted to say something but couldn’t bring it up. I guess I chose to ignore cause at least I still had them around. From the week leading up to her funeral on September 4, 2021, I hoped and prepared to give a speech and cuss out everyone in my family for not being careful around her and not wearing a mask. That’s how mad I was. Her death, like many others, was unnecessary and could’ve been prevented if everyone did their part and wore a mask and got vaccinated.
“Is it my fault for not saying anything?” I asked as I took a break from hiking and looked between the trees and saw the surrounding hills and mountains of Bugu, South Korea. Being surrounded by nature with the sounds of birds chirping, and mosquitos humming about brought a sense of calm. Then an ajumaa or ajushi(elderly Korean woman or man) came through blasting their speaker or smartphone which killed the mood…
It’s no secret that exercise can help with mental health and especially during times of stress. Walking up the trail did help calm me down, gave me the motivation to finish this trail. It quelled my rage And unfortunately, it also made me too hungry. About two and half hours in, I finally made it to the top and had a chance to see an amazing view of the area. I climbed about 1000 meters high and there were times when I wanted to quit. But for some reason, I couldn’t find the reason to quit. I wasn’t going to allow the loss of a loved one to bring me down. Nor the virus while wearing a mask and being vaccinated of course. Plus I wanted to see the view because I was sure it would’ve been worth it and it was.
At the top of Eungbongsan, I was amazed at the small area of Bugu, where the trail is located and the views of the rolling hills were a sight to see. Of course, I had to get some shots in and get some food. As I was resting and took a quick nap I had a chance to say goodbye and calm down. Here is when I finally accepted the fact she’s gone and I won’t see her ever again. Here I said my farewell and looked down on the horizon. And that was also ruined bc other Koreans came through and were surprised to see a foreigner up in these parts….. especially a giant black man like me.
My plea to any anti-masker/vaxxer or those who are still hesitant to get the vaccine. Talk to a doctor, reach out to a pharmacist, hell email a virologist at your local university. Talk to as many health experts as necessary until you feel comfortable getting the vaccine. No one should have to bear the pain of losing someone to covid. And the worst pain of all is not being there in person to say goodbye. We can easily curb this virus and get too low levels and not have to worry about another variant if we just wear a mask and get vaccinated.
I wish to ask the anti-masker and vaxxers this…is it worth dying on a hill for something so easily preventable? Is it worth leaving your family to pay for the medical bills and funeral costs that they’ll have to turn to GoFundMe and ask strangers to pay for? Is it worth sitting in the hospital with tubes down your throat and your family can only say goodbye via an iPad or smartphone because you didn’t want to wear a mask? Do you want to own the libs that bad that you’ll have long-term lung problems or die alone in a hospital? Are you prepared to have your children become orphans if you and your partner die from covid like many other unvaccinated parents? All of this unnecessary death just to own the libs.
If you want to get back to what was “normal” and have a social life again. Swallow your pride, listen to the health experts, wear a mask and get vaccinated. You do have a choice. Get a free vaccine or lose your life and leave your family with a massive medical bill. I wish no harm to come to anyone but I hope maybe words can convince just one reader to wear a mask and get vaccinated.
Rest in Peace Aunt Vette. I’m sorry that you lost your life this way.