I wake up feeling a sharp pain in my stomach and I note that I am hungry. And alive!  A cold glass of milk sends me straight to the bathroom. On the other side, I have this calm sense that I have more energy this morning than in the previous few. It’s my birthday after all.  

It’s a miracle that this universe was created and that I was born into this world. What are the odds of things having to go right at every turn?  Yet some things did: the earth was created and provided the perfect conditions to host all living things to be born into it and live their lives.  I was born healthy to a mom 40 years old, her 5th baby in this union.  A poor woman in a country with no welfare support at the time with a husband who was more accustomed to spending her money than bringing it home. Would it have occurred to her, “How will I do this all?” 

I am told that I was not celebrated by my dad at the beginning because I was a girl. They had lost their 5th child, a brilliant son, their best, to childhood disease.  Maybe they wished for another son to soothe their loss.  And a girl wasn’t it.  Yet I was more. A vibrant and happy baby and child winning hearts by singing, dancing and witty and funny remarks (for a small child). So instead of regretting that I was not a boy, my family chose to adore me, the brat of the family. I was the last child after all. I could get away with murder!  

A sensitive child, I was keenly aware of my mom’s agonies and sorrows. Her marriage wasn’t harmonious, and the back-breaking work she did to provide food and money for education for her kids was hard. She never questioned her responsibility but it was heavy on her – made worse because her husband just wouldn’t partner in the responsibility to bring anything good home. She would cry in front of a mirror (to this day, I don’t know why in front of a mirror) and I’d assume the role of the consoler at the age 5. I first started by singing her favourite Psalms, then I’d share my vision of making something out of myself to provide her with a comfortable life when I grew up, then I’d hug her and chat with her until she calmed down. It worked – 100%. She endured her non-partner until he passed away and then did her absolute best to raise us kids.  

So on my 52nd birthday, here is my tribute to you, my dear mom.  

You, the warrior,  

Who wouldn’t give your responsibility up for anything 

Even if it meant working 20 hours a day, every day, 

If it gave you bone aches,  

You kept taking those unhealthy painkillers 

Damn the long-term effects, you had your eyes on the prize: 

You wanted to educate your kids so that they could live a better life than you;  

And we have, firmly moved up to middle class, thanks to you 

You were born during the Japanese colonization,  

Lived through World War II and the Korean wars 

You saw it all and bore the brunt of unfair histories  

Always, the poor take the worst  

Through it all, you persevered 

You did your best 

And I might add 

I made something out of my life and achieved my vision,  

Because I promised you. 

And if I hadn’t fulfilled my commitment,  

I wouldn’t be your daughter, would I? 

So today 

On my birthday 

I celebrate your life  

I profess my undying love for you 

You are long gone,  

If there is another life, 

I would still choose to be your daughter  

this time however  

You would be born wanting for nothing

A wonderful childhood with good education  

Meeting a loving and devoted husband and father 

Live a healthy life  

Then you would die peacefully with your loved ones next to you  

Mom… 

If I can be only half as strong as you,  

Cancer will be no match for me 

So today on my birthday  

I tell you, mom,  

I’m a proud daughter of yours,  

I am thankful for the life that you gave me 

Well done, dear mom 

Rest in peace  

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