It seems that the entire nation is in mourning. Although the government has yet to declare an official period of national mourning, pending the recovery of those still missing, the whole nation is gripped by the tragic sinking of the Sewol ferry.
Some of the prevailing sentiments are sorrow, grief, anger, frustration, shame, guilt, pity and sympathy. Few words, however, would be able to describe the unbearable pain suffered by the families of those who died or are missing. Nothing and nobody can take them back to the time before April 16.
But there are many who try to stand by them as they are struggling through one of the most difficult times of their lives. Over the weekend, tens of hundreds of people stood in the rain for two hours in Ansan, lining up to pay tribute to the Sewol victims.
Yellow ribbons are now ubiquitous. They first appeared in Ansan, at Paengmok Port and along Cheonggyecheon Stream, and have been spreading to more places as well as in cyberspace and social media. Many wear them on their lapels. Clearly, all Koreans are united in sharing their grief and praying for the dead and their bereaved families.
Furthermore, there are unsung heroes who rushed to the aid of those who are suffering: Civilian divers who joined the dangerous underwater search and rescue operations, volunteers who are taking care of the grief-stricken families in Ansan and Paengmok, taxi drivers who offer free rides between Ansan and Paengmok, which are 340 kilometers apart, and people who sent packages to those who have been staying at a gymnasium on Jindo Island for two weeks. Celebrities are joining what has become a national campaign.
While in grief, we were inspired by the real heroes, who sacrificed their lives to save others when the ship was sinking. Crew members Park Jin-young and Yang Dae-hong, teachers Nam Yun-cheol and Choi Hye-jeong and student Jung Cha-woong all sacrificed their lives to save other passengers although they had time to escape. Each tale of these heroes is truly heart-breaking.
It is quite natural that there is a public campaign to petition the government for legal recognition of those heroes. They more than deserve the honor, which will pave the way for their burial in the national cemetery and government compensation and benefits for their families. It would be one of the few things the government could do to alleviate the pain and make the Sewol tragedy a precious lesson for the next generations.
We all have good reasons to shout in anger at the captain who was one of the first to flee from the sinking ship, its greedy owner and government officials. But the real heroes we have seen through the calamity convince us that we also have a reason to be proud of being Korean and united in a national crisis.