Some people grow through pain and suffering. Poet Kim Ji-ha was one of them. Here’s an episode in his memoir from high school years: Kim was not interested in most of the subjects, and his grades were barely above zero. One day, he got caught in a math class by a teacher while scribbling in the margins. The teacher violently hit him in the head and blamed him for other scribbles on toilet walls. Kim thought it was unfair accusation. At P.E. class, he was picked on by an ex-soldier teacher without reasons.
The school he went to divided students by grades. Kim’s grades were always uneven, and he went to and fro different classes. The way the school assigned students to classes was barbaric indeed, but he could befriend with people from various backgrounds thanks to it. Kim had many friends who could “swing their fists.” They were all valuable friends, regardless of their backgrounds.
There is nothing special about Kim’s story. However, when it is entitled with a grandiose expression, “The First Philosophy,” the story becomes special. Kim describes his experience of having been unfairly beaten down and making friends with people from various backgrounds as the first philosophy. Looking back, he writes, what he experienced back in high school days was the beginning of his reflection of human beings, as Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard wrote, “Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards.”
It may have been thanks to this philosophy that Kim suffered hardship while fighting injustice after he became an adult and he treasured those at the lower ranks of society. Maybe it was this enlightenment that transformed a poet who fought for democracy and was incarcerated for more than five years into an advocator of life. Kim wept for hours in jail, seeing a dandelion flower that has grown out of the prison walls. Even a dandelion flower blooms in jail, then how more precious is a human life! It was the moment a pain-stricken soul was filled with awe of life, the moment when the first philosophy bore fruits. The epiphany came to him through pain.