Being Free

I’m back home from my trip to Korea,
watching the election returns, the right to vote,
a cornerstone of our democracy, a privilege
taken too much for granted as is so much
of what we have here in the United States,
the envy of so many the world over. 

My mind drifts back to that moment in Korea
when we stood in the Odusan Unification Tower
watching seven North Korean’s farm their rice field.
They have no say in who will rule them, and we guess
that on this side the fields of democracy must look greener,
that these people must be unhappy with their lives
lived so restrictively under an authoritarian regime.

These seven people work just under two miles
across the DMZ from South Korea, and it makes sense,
doesn’t it, if they’re unhappy they could so easily escape.
But beyond the consequences for their family members,
the majority of those who defect tell the same story.
Once they’re in South Korea, they do not fit in.
They receive an initial small government stipend
and a small apartment for which they must pay rent,
but they find few job opportunities, and maybe worst of all,
the Korean they speak is different from the South.
The result is isolation and loneliness, a desire
to be back in familiar confines with their loved ones.
This isn’t the exception; this is the case with most.

My nights are smaller as I age, and my room, just right,
is small enough to match this contracting world of mine.
But my situation is not a sentence imposed for gambling
my life on a choice of one prison over another.
Returning to the TV, I feel so very lucky indeed.

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