Looking for Don—A Meditation

by Dai Sil Kim-Gibson

© 2012, Dai Sil Kim-Gibson, 81 pgs. Forest Woods Media
ISBN: 2011943859 — February, 2012

A review by Mary Morris

Dai Sil Kim-Gibson is an internationally known filmmaker and writer on the subject of diaspora and human rights.  Originally from North Korea, she has received awards from both the Rockefeller Foundation and the MacArthur Foundation.  In mid-life, Dai Sil met and married Donald D. Gibson, formerly acting Chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities under President Clinton.  Together, they shared a common interest in human rights and a deep commitment to each other.

         Looking for Don is a brave dedication to a husband’s life, following his illness and death.  Dai Sil’s meditations, dreams, poems, photographs, paintings, memoirs, and thoughts braid the deep commitment of her love and loss.  Her writing is passionate.  Visual images carry through with an emotional depth and style similar to Van Gogh and Monet.  Kim-Gibson carries us not only in all of the stages of their grief, but also in our own.  I love how this book begins with their origins:

“That little boy grew not only as old as 62 but lived to be 70, 
and became a bright, shiny star for me for more than 29 years 
until January 18, 2009.  Alone at the kitchen table now, I hold a glass of wine. 
Ours was never a love affair. Ours was a life of love where our 
souls and minds met, destined to last in life and in death.”

Letters, emails, journals of her husband, reflections on the writing of visionaries such as Thomas Merton, portraits of Don and paintings of fields in different seasons meld into an amazing congruency of reflection and honor.

Striking lines from the book:

Both born in the year of the tiger, never to be separated.

With Don, I am sure Love came from the comfort of a farm family in Iowa. Mine, from Korea, the land of morning calm, the land of my birth.

A marriage that began in mid-life and survived until one parted.

At the edge of the world,/ If the memories make one weak /With remembering, /
The soul will heal and shelter, /To conjure more memories. 

Dai Sil does not try to hide difficult facts but bravely moves foward.  Through sickness and ICU, the following is one of Don’s memories: “Now I live in New York City, with limited energy, constant pain and great indecision about whether I should live or die. I fear I am a burden to Dai Sil and I think often that she would be far better off without me. I know she loves me but why should she have to bear this?”

Dai Sil accepts challenge with courage.

“Through death and Winter/ If a bridge awaits him./ He will cross it./ If darkness makes him lost, /He will look for/ The sun and the moon./ If sadness hovers over him, / He will summon euphoria. / The distant sound of a drum / That sings the litany of life/ Will become louder and louder/ And help him to betoken the love /
I send with him.”

A reflection:  “C.S. Lewis wrote in his journal that grief feels like fear. Though one is not afraid, the sensation is like being afraid. I understand what he means. When I get up, my body feels lost, as if it does not know where to locate itself, where to hide from shock despair, sadness, loneliness.”

Looking For Don is one woman’s tribute to a life, lives shared, of grief.

“That kindled love to me, / That sent winter to exile,/ And brought forsythia. / With the lovely forsythia / Each branch / Brings a moment of joy /As if awakened / From a torment of bare winter. / Don delighted in forsythia / Calling it gaenari /
Its Korean name / With gaenari / The torment of his absence /Turns into a moment of joy.“

Death and grief are universal, which is why it is so important to express loss in the personal.  To understand the broad cultural aspects of losing life, I must include this touching memory of Dai Sil’s:  “October 5, 1959, I was 20 years old in South Korea. It was the day of the funeral. My parents managed to find mourning clothes for all eight children, white Korean outfits made of coarse cotton. All of us, eight grandchildren, followed our parents who walked right behind a small coffin that held my grandmother’s body, now motionless and breathless. Others—relatives, friends and neighbors—followed. Some Koreans hire people to wail but there was no need for that. All of us, eight children and my parents, wailed with such sorrow that the sound seemed to be reaching the sky and covering it with dark clouds. The sound of sorrowful and soul-ful wailing never stopped until we climbed a small hill of a Catholic cemetery on the outskirts of Seoul. As we buried our grandmother, we wept and wailed until our chests and hearts felt like they might give out, and the clouds in the sky turned dark and thick with our tears. It was a day of deep sorrow, each of us hanging onto private memories of this woman, our matriarch, more precious than anything in the world.”

         Looking for Don assists us in the compassion of others, as well as in individual grief for our deceased, a guidance with the possibilities of coming to terms with loss.

Mary Morris lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico.  She is the winner of the Rita Dove Award and the New Mexico Discovery Award.  Her work is widely published Contact:  Water400@aol.com