The Moments That Change Us


Tasha Burgoyne -Moments that Change Us3

My parents and I walked down a narrow set of concrete stairs to get there. Each step moved us closer to a moment in our family story that changed us. Once we were down inside the basement restaurant, we walked to a space in the center. We were surrounded by red and white checkered tablecloths in a western style BBQ restaurant in South Korea. The tablecloths seemed as out of place as I felt.

My mom had told me vague stories multiple times about how she had lost her family when she was growing up in South Korea. As a young girl, I was full of questions. My mom hinted at complex things and tried to explain war, poverty, and loss in ways that would satisfy and make sense to me as a little girl. More than anything, I remember how often I felt her on-going sadness. In my personal experience, intergenerational trauma is real.

That summer day in Korea, I complained like any American six-year-old might complain about having to sit in taxi after taxi, not fully comprehending why we were spending the entire day doing what we were doing. I remember how my legs stuck to the black taxi seats, and how I would try to busy myself by counting the beads that were stitched together on the taxi driver’s beaded seat cover as we drove here and there, chasing after my mom’s clouded memories. Up until that point I didn’t think much about the fact that I only knew grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins on my dad’s side. My mom’s side was blanketed with a million questions and the sound of her tears as she bent over the sink washing dishes.

My parents and I stood alone in the checkered-table restaurant for a moment like a small, silent island. Then there was quiet chatter that became louder, like sirens heard from afar, now up close, blaring and inescapable. Korean women were weeping and we were engulfed in the sound of their cries. They reached for my mom and she reached for them. They reached for my dad and me as well and I remember feeling scared, uncomfortable and yet deeply moved in a way I had never felt before.

That night, I watched a part of my mother’s heart mend and I felt part of my own heart become forever lit. I learned an important lesson: I can belong to those who feel like strangers, and they can belong to me.

For years after that night in the basement restaurant, all I knew was that I would cry when I saw a reunion or reconciliation. The memory was a fact that brought strong feelings, not much more. It wasn’t until the last decade that I began to pay attention to those tears as a key to finding treasure in my story.

Our stories are like treasure maps. They help us understand what we were made for. It takes courage to search them. And it takes time to understand them. As we search them, we add new paths and pages, and while at first it might seem like it’s only making the map more difficult to read, at second (or third or fourth or one hundredth) glance, I think it makes all of the connections clearer.

It’s just now that I am beginning to understand. I look back now and I see it. I’ve always felt most alive and full of light in the middle of cultures colliding, cultures reuniting and people reconciling. As a child attending an international school in Japan, my favorite event was the international pot luck where all the various cultures that were part of the school brought food from their culture and we tasted, offered, and broke bread together. Later at university, it was in the room with a group of international students who had become dear friends, that I felt most alive. It’s always been in the midst of learning a new culture that I have felt most at home.

Sometimes these parts of our stories make us feel lost and lonely, and we push them away because they seem like too much to dig into. Other important parts of our story carry shame. Yet if we are willing to look and willing to persevere and allow ourselves to look long enough to find the places where light came through, we will understand the way our story wants to give The Light of the World the glory it was written and is being written for.

It wasn’t just the mending of my family that lit my heart–it was the hope that all people can be restored. It was the continued evidence that we all, friends and strangers alike, belong to one another and are meant to be family. It was the everlasting beauty of what was lost, becoming found in the most unlikely of places.

Search your story, look for where the light comes through like hidden treasure. Don’t run away from the dark and the deep places. That is where the light shines brightest after all. Hold up the treasures found, uncover them and let them illuminate your path forward.