By Casey Lartigue, Jr.
Item #1: Shortly after my most recent Korea Times column "To donate, investigate" (March 11, 2014) was published, I received an email from a lady informing me that she wanted to donate 1 million won to the Mulmangcho School (for adolescent North Korean refugees).
Item #2: At the conclusion of a March 15 forum ("Don't Ask My Name": North Korean Women today) I organized, one of my fans handed me a USB drive and 500,000 won to help sponsor a shipment of material about the outside world to North Korea.
Item #3: A lady I have never met recently sent me 500,000 won, she said, to thank me for my activities.
The point? Things get really interesting after my latest column is published or I host an event. I've received unsolicited invitations for dinner, lunch, to lead discussion groups, and speech requests. Potential volunteers have embraced my proactive strategy "To be a good volunteer, use your brain" (Dec. 5, 2012). Others proudly proclaim themselves "Yes" people based on my first Korea Times column, "Yes men in a no country" (Dec. 17, 2013). Other event attendees have bought gifts (including a Kindle) for speakers at my events. North Korean refugees in South Korea have told relatives in North Korea that they can have as many English teachers as they want in my Teach North Korean Refugees project.
Those are among the many "rest of the story" updates to my columns. Newspapers have no memory, however; they are a lot like the character portrayed by actress Drew Barrymore in the 2004 romantic comedy "50 First Dates" who suffered from Goldfield's Syndrome. Every morning she woke up with no memory of what had happened the day before.
Reporters and cameramen capture a snapshot for their amnesic newspapers, but any good activist knows there is a difference between a moment and a movement.
In trying to foster a movement for freedom, I am often interrupted by moments. After my most previous column encouraged people to donate money rather than holding donation drives, I was invited by Dominique Roberts of the Chadwick International School to give a speech about my company and activities.
I overlooked a key detail in the email. As I walked around the school, I said to Dominique: "Hey, I only see little people." My audience: Elementary school kids, not the usual high school students or adults.
The speech was not a movement, but it was an incredible moment. Those fourth graders spontaneously applauded me several times, interrupted me with questions, and one whipper-snapper even challenged me. I was about to tell him, "Hey, kid, I have gym shoes older than you are," but instead I answered him directly.
Afterward, the little people mobbed for me for my autograph. Domenique told me that one student rushed out: "I have to laminate this RIGHT NOW! No one better touch or they will die." The teachers were shaking their heads, asking aloud why the youngsters had responded so strongly, informing me that I was definitely the most popular guest speaker they had ever had. My guess? I didn't give them a theoretical talk about freedom ― I showed the little people with a presentation intended for an older audience how I "do" freedom.
The moment was a welcome interruption. I didn't say it, but I was still grieving the death of my grandmother from a few days before. I had learned the terrible news shortly before hosting the forum "Don't Ask My Name." I cursed and cried for a long time that morning. A few hours later, I wondered about the North Korean refugee ladies as they gave their speeches, knowing that they told only part of their painful stories. Their strength reminded me not to break down as I blamed myself for being a lousy grandson.
I had so much going on at that moment ― organizing an international rally, launching a new online TV show, the forum about North Korean refugee women, and preparing for a speaking tour in the United States, etc. Then death intervened, reminding me how important it is to enjoy moments even when they don't become movements.
After the speech and impromptu autograph session at Chadwick, one little girl returned to ask a teacher if it was okay to get a big bear hug from me. I needed it more than she did at that moment.
I later let the Chadwick teachers know that the moment wasn't enough. I would be delighted to return to perform for the kids ― swing dancing or rapping ― to let them know that even busy people involved in serious work advocating for freedom can have a good time. It may not become a movement, but our previous precious moment can have a fun "rest of the story" update.