Thank you! It is my honor to be with you on this very special evening celebrating the 8th Annual Chuseok Gala.
“Build to Share”! What a theme for a gathering such as this! In reflection of this phrase, I recalled a time when I was in the hospital waiting for a heart transplant and read a book called, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten by Robert Fulghum. In other words, “everything I need to know in order to succeed in life, I learned in kindergarten.” Lessons like:
1) Clean up your own mess
2) Flush the toilet
3) Say sorry when you hurt somebody
4) Put things back where you found them
5) Don’t hit people
6) Play fair
7) And SHARE everything.
So, when I started my company 20 years ago, I decided to keep my core values simple. I teach my staff to:
1) Return calls on the same day.
2) Inform all the time; keep clients and staff “in the know.”
3) Go the extra mile.
And the overarching purpose of our existence was framed into this mission statement: we exist to help those in need.
This is our solid foundation. This is how we build to share.
Light the candle…
I light this candle as a visual echo of a verse from Proverbs 31:28, “She sees that her trading is profitable, and her lamp does not go out at night.” I pray that this evening will be profitable both financially and spiritually, so that KCCP can become the shining LIGHT and sharing HANDS of this community.
Now, with a room of this size full of so many Koreans; I’d like to see if you are truly Korean-American and know your heritage!
Let me pose this question:
Why did people begin to fight when grandmother left the room?
(Pause for audience’s answer)
Because, there was no harmony (할머니).
We all strive to be great in many things.We strive to get good grades, get into good schools, land a great job, run a great business and of course, find a beautiful wife or a perfect husband. And we have the vision to build this community center. They are all achievable. They are all easier than this one, very thing: living in HARMONY. Yes, living in harmony with others is one of the most challenging things in life.
To live in HARMONY, we need something that keeps the candlelight burning.
This reminds me of the humor between a boy and a girl. A girl says to a boy she wants to marry him; saying that when they are married, she will take away all his worries, challenges and troubles. And the boys says, “That’s good darling, but I do not have any worries, challenges or troubles.” The girl then replies, “That’s because we are not married yet.”
You may have a perfect partner but living a harmonious life with that person is something else. You may build this community center but sharing it in harmony with the community will be something else.
In the movie Field of Dreams, there goes the infamous quote “If you build it, they will come.” And they did. But, do you know why they came? They came not because they built the field; they came because they built a dream!
The field they built was a place where their dreams were made, born, hoped, casted, and realized.
If we build it, can we share?
If we build it, can we share in harmony with the community?
Someone once asked me, “How do you become successful? How do you make the ‘American Dream’ come true?” Well, I said to him, “Carry 1,000-lbs of steel on your back, and then you will find the way to get there.” And of course, he was puzzled! So, I proceeded with these two stories – one of recent memory and another, a piece of history.
There was a time I overheard two ladies walking towards an escalator. As they approached the escalator, one lady complained saying that it was broken again. The other lady simply replied, “Escalator’s don’t breakdown; they just turn into stairs.”
In 1518, Captain Hernando Cortes, a native of Spain, was appointed as explorer and conqueror to Mexico. At that time, Mexico was under the rule of the mighty Aztec Empire. Captain Cortes sailed from Cuba to a peninsula located on the east coast of Mexico. He only had 11 ships, 500 soldiers, 100 sailors, and only 16 horses. His rule of engagement was simple: to conquer Mexico no matter what, no matter how long!
When they landed in the peninsula, the Captain told his soldiers to burn all their boats. His people were shocked. He said to them, “Burn the boats. Torch the boats.” And he added, “If we go home, we are going home on their boats, the enemy’s boats.” That was their rule of engagement!
For each one of the soldiers and sailors, that was more than carrying 1,000-lbs of steel on their back. They feared for their lives. All smiles and joy left them!
Yet, amazing things began to happen. Captain Cortes and his crew fought really hard and very well. Three years later, they defeated the Aztec Empire and built Mexico City in its place. The 1,000-lbs of steel on their back helped them to survive. It helped them to be creative and clever. They won the war by first becoming friends with the locals, making them their allies. They first learned to live in HARMONY with the locals.
Their boats were burned. Their hearts were deeply saddened. Their escalator was broken. But they turned it all into STAIRS of HOPE, a New Beginning.
The challenges we face today will give birth to a new mission, a new sense of purpose in life that is greater than self.
Just how, do you wonder? Well, I, too, had many hardships and challenges!
For one, I grew up in a leper’s colony in Busan, Korea where my father served as a pastor for 13 years. Growing up in that area, I was ridiculed, mocked, and called names, as though I was a leper myself. The other children even threw rocks at me, to keep me away from them.
Upon coming to the U.S. in 1969, my life seemed normal; that is, other than getting the usual bullies and being called names and told to “go-back-to-where-you-come-from.” After college, I started to work for an engineering and architectural company and moved up in the corporate ladder pretty quickly, becoming a principal at age 29 at one of the largest firms. I thought I was running high. I thought I had made it. I thought my life would be a cruise from this point on. And yet, one day, 22 years ago, while I was driving along the New Jersey Turnpike, going 75 MPH, I passed out. My heart was not supplying enough AIR, oxygen, to my brain.
I was only 31 years old. I went to the hospital that day and was told, “You have a serious problem. Mr. Haahs, your heart is not functioning properly.” Within hours they placed a pacemaker within me to regulate my heartbeat. A few weeks later, they placed a defibrillator in my belly to activate or to calm my irregular heartbeat. Then, it was decided; the doctor came to me and said, “Your heart is no good. If you want to survive, you’ll need a heart transplant.” Upon hearing that, my face turned pale. I felt the earth shake beneath me, the sky crumble down on top of me. I really felt that the sun and moon would no longer shine, as if there was no more AIR for me to breathe in. Instantly, I felt 1,000-lbs of steel pile on top of my back. I felt every single pound of it. It was a weight I could not bear. My escalator was broken. I saw my life being destroyed before me. That night and many nights afterwards, alone in the hospital room, when no one was around, I cried!
I wanted to know how my girls would be taken care of.
I wanted to know if I had any chance of living again.
I wanted to know if God really cared for me.
I wanted to know if there was any purpose left for my life.
My life was broken.
I waited 6 months in the hospital for a donor. During this time I lost just about everything: my salary, bonus, BMW, rental properties. We exceeded our insurance limit of $1M and had a hospital bill for an additional $450,000. My body depended on medicine that cost $1500 a month; I became a beggar looking for leftover medicines. There were even holes in my children’s sneakers – though, they would just shrug their shoulders and smile.
Yes, my life was broken. There was no harmony.
Until, one evening it hit me; a verse from the Bible resounded within me: “For when I am weak, then I am strong.” And I began to draw in my mind the STAIRS springing out of the brokenness.
My heart was broken, but I could hear the echo: “Escalators don’t breakdown; they just turn into stairs.”
I had then decided to turn what is broken into STAIRS of HOPE, transform what is broken into STAIRS of living in HARMONY with people around me.Instead of focusing on the weight of all these burdens, I began to ask what I would do when I get a second chance in life.
One day, I picked up a local newspaper in the hospital. It had an article about a soup kitchen run by a group of local churches and how they had to close their doors due to a lack of funding. I mentioned to my wife that day, “when I leave this place, when I have my heart transplant, I want to live for others before I live for myself: my career, my goals, my money, my success. Now I want to live to help people. I want to live to give like my father did, spending 13 years of his life in a leper’s colony loving and caring for people.” And she agreed! With that, my wife and I decided to start a new company and we wrote down a mission statement: “We exist to help those who are in need.” It means that we not only financially help those who are less fortunate than us, but that we also live in harmony through sacrifice, honesty, and transparency.
In referring to the candlelight…
Do you know what happens when gasoline comes in contact with a spark?
Cover the candle
If you are thinking that we would have an explosion or fire, you are wrong. It takes more than just a candle and a match to start a fire. It takes AIR. Fire can only ignite in the presence of AIR. Without AIR, oxygen, nothing will happen. Most of us here are Korean-Americans. We have a pioneering spirit. We have determination. We are survivors. We have tenacity to overcome any challenges. But to turn the broken escalator into stairs, it takes more. It takes more than just a candle and a match. It requires AIR.We often say that we need to shine. In fact we say that it is time for us to SHINE.
Our motherland, Korea, is shining globally. 40 years ago, they started by making garments and providing labor; South Korea’s economy was built by nurses and miners who went to labor in developing countries and by soldiers who fought in the Vietnam War. They sacrificed. Then, Korean automobiles entered the global market. Samsung and LG are now illuminating the world with technologies. K-pop and Korean dramas are dominating the world stage. Soon, I think we will emerge in fashion and movies. Then, I predict food; Bibimbob will invade every corner of this land, and of course, Kimchi and Galbi are a must.
What about us in the US? We worked hard. We built communities with stores, restaurants and churches. Many of our young people are doing amazing things in this society. Our children need to grow knowing that they can shine; they can create fire; they can turn a broken escalator into STAIRS, living in harmony with others. One day they will realize that good schooling and good grades do not always create success and harmony. It takes something else – it takes AIR. For Korean-Americans to shine here in the US, the air we need is NOT just voices or visibilities that politicians talk about. The air we need is NOT just great scholastic achievement some of our parents talk about.
The air we need is HOPE from brokenness. The air we need is SACRIFICE for harmony’s sake. The air we need is helping those who are in need. The air we need is living with purpose greater than self.
To the leaders of KCCP: You make us proud; keep up the good work. You are the hope. The candlelight is burning brightly today because you are helping us to see the STAIRS of Hope.
To the sponsors of this event and all of you who are here today: Keep the light burning because you are the AIR. You are the air, the oxygen we need to keep the candlelight of hope burning and to turn what is broken into stairs of HOPE.
Today, we also celebrate Chuseok. Admittedly, one of my favorite parts about Chuseok is the 떡! I love Korean 떡! Especially 찐덕찐덕한 떡. And, I always wanted to know why 송편떡 is shaped like a half-moon.
송편이 반달같은 모양을 가진 이유는, 백제의 의자왕이 이런 말을 하였습니다. “백제는 보름달이요, 신라는 반달이요” 라고 하였습니다. 그 후 백제는 신라에게 정복 당하였습니다.
언젠 부터인가 한국에서는 “반달은 희망을 주는 모양”이라하고 반달 모양을 가진 송편을 보름달 아래서 먹으며 미래에 대한 행운과 희망을 품기 시작했다고 합니다.
오늘 우리는 이룩하지 못한꿈과 아픔, 어려운 환경으로 인한 상처를 다 가져와 반달같은 희망의 모양…송편을 드시며 아픔과 어려움을 소망으로 극복하기 원합니다. 성경에 “여호와의 말씀이니라. 너희를 향한 나의 생각을 내가 아나니, 평안이요 재앙이 아니니라. 너희에게 미래와 희망을 주는 것이니라” (예레미아 29:11) 하셨습니다.
The half-moon shaped rice-cake is to remind the people with absolute certainty that a half moon will turn into a full moon; that better days are yet to come. The broken escalators will turn into STAIRS; the Center will be built.
When we live in harmony, when we live to share, this community center will become the beacon of HOPE. And you are the AIR that will keep the HOPE alive.
As so wisely spoken by Mother Teresa, “We can do no great things; only small things with great love.”
The air we need to be able to share is love.
The air we need is to dream.
The air we need is you.
The air we need is to be good neighbors.
(This speech is permitted by author to be read on our website)