FINDING SEOUL 3
She is a girl playing dress-up in a nun’s habit. A rainbow-tailed unicorn, disguised as a workhorse.
She runs toward me with her arms outstretched and I am four, five, and six--my stubby legs propelling me forward until I am swathed in the dove-grey of her skirt, a child with her heart broken, a lost thing without a mom or dad.
Thirty-one years evaporate in her sturdy arms and the girl I’ve been seeking is the one I become in her embrace. I burst into tears.
“Welcome Hana! Hana, Hana, Hana! It is so good to see you! Welcome, welcome!” She sings the words like a hymn, a praise to the one she serves that I am with her once again, no more an orphan child but a woman, all grown-up.
She takes me back through the gate, to show me the metal sign affixed outside in Kelly green. Sisters of St. Paul’s Convent, White Lily Orphanage.
“Do you know it?” the woman I’ve come to know over the past year-and-a-half as sister Theresa asks. “Do you remember?”
I nod, still sniffling from the emotions her hugs and words have unexpectedly released. In my memory, the plate is bronze, but it is affixed to the red-brick wall outside the orphanage as it is now. I seem to remember waiting for a bus or van here, the sun beating down on me, the world so bright, it looked like a sun-bleached photograph.
“Did you see the sign?” When I shake my head, Sister Theresa springs into action like a woman half her age. She is over sixty but you wouldn’t know it from her quick movements, the girlish lilt of her voice when she speaks.
I watch in amazement as she runs onto the lawn just behind the iron gates. She stoops and props up a wooden sign that has toppled in the wind. It says, “Welcome” in bright, colorful letters. “It’s for you!” she says happily, extending both her hands to me, her veil fluttering behind her. “For you, dear Hana.”
And I feel as though she is welcoming me home.
Photo of Sister Theresa by Hana