I am watching Hometown Cha Cha Cha whose "new episodes every week!" have kept me on the edge of my seat for some weeks now. When we first meet our hero, Hong Du-sik, he comes across as arrogant, competent and devoted to the residents of his small seaside town. We quickly learn that he has PTSD, but the source of his night terrors is a closely-guarded secret. It's possible that Grandmother Gam-ri knows, but no one else. The village respects his privacy -- per Robert Frost, "Home is where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in." But as the heroine arrives and falls in love with him, we see that he is profoundly stuck. He is deeply ashamed of the events that precipitated the PTSD and so vacillates between pulling her close and pushing her away. He can't help but love her and she can't help but think he should tell her what's up. His defense is crumbling quickly, and then people arrive who know the story. In a very public attack, his shame is exposed.
Happily, we're coming to the end of the new-episodes-every-week. A great thing about K-Drama as an art form is that stories end. It is often referred to as soap opera and a common question when one googles a K-Drama is, "Will there be a second season?" Netflix creates this problem by labeling the shows "Season 1." But as far as I can tell, the situation story has been finished, and it's on to the next. It's a very satisfying form, which avoids the neurotic repetition compulsion so beloved in American TV. God forbid anybody work through their issues and get on with their lives! K-Drama is just profoundly interesting because it focuses on the crack in the brittle defenses that have worked for a while, but are insufficient for getting through the crisis at hand, whatever that is. As Leonard Cohen wrote, "There is a crack in everything, that's how the light gets in." So we must be joyous to see our hero disintegrate, held as he is by a loving girlfriend and devoted community. We have great hopes that he will make it to the other side, with a new lease on life, the PTSD behind him.
This happened to me. My own version of the patched-over crack was the very brittle resolution of the trauma of changing schools when I was 7 years old. It never worked very well, but fell apart with a one-two-three punch of illness, divorce, and displacement from my beloved office. I was lucky to have the care of a community that reminded me that I was loved, not because -- to borrow from Leonard Cohen -- I had a "perfect offering," but rather because I was. They were not afraid of the crack and welcomed the light that shone through. While Du-sik (lucky guy!) is going to be a new man in two episodes, it took me a couple of years to get through that. Those years were not so fun -- on one of the worst days, I totaled my car driving through a stop sign. Metaphors abound.
What made my situation so brittle was the lack of faith in the world -- I thought I had to keep going by drawing on my unaided will. That was not enough to overcome my fears. What would be enough? I needed a deeper source of strength -- I had to find my faith -- as one friend explained to me, "Gratitude is the way forward from trauma." That strikes me as totally paradoxical and totally true. On the other side of the upheaval and re-working was that thing that had eluded me since I was 7: a sense of belonging -- belonging to a family, a house, a job, a congregation, a neighborhood, a troubled world.
It's the troubled world that can learn from Hong Du-sik's crash. We can't keep the secrets or hide our shame. We are loved by God and other people -- and even the elephants, my friend Dominic Moulden assures me. As another K-Drama put it, "It's OK not to be OK." We can face the reckoning that has arrived.