A few hundred Koreans just won the lottery, but claimed a prize far more precious than money.
In a rare display of diplomacy, the governments of North and South Korea temporarily shelved their disagreements to help elders from both countries reunite with family members they hadn’t seen in decades, according to an Associated Press report.
A few dozen South Koreans (randomly chosen by a computer from a list of over 70,000 entrants) and nearly 200 North Koreans gathered at the Diamond Mountain Resort in North Korea for several days — sharing memories, tears and tender embraces. Fathers met their daughters for the first time, siblings who hadn’t seen each other since they were small children hugged, shedding tears of joy and sorrow.
Despite Alzheimer’s, blindness, hearing loss and other ailments, the elders were determined not to pass up on the rare opportunity to reconnect with loved ones. At 91 years old, Kim Sun-kyum was so frail that he had to be wheeled in on a stretcher.
Meeting, only to part again
The armistice agreement that ended the Korean War in 1953 established a demilitarized zone between the two nations and brokered an uneasy cease-fire that has been in danger of breaking down numerous times over the years. Peace has never been officially declared and both governments have forbidden their citizens from contacting relatives on the other side of the border—no emails, no letters, no phone calls.
In an effort to ease tensions, the reunion lottery was established in South Korea in 2000 to enable family members who had been separated by the war to meet, sometimes for the first time ever. The meetings took place on an annual basis, until 2010, when South Korea claimed their northern neighbors sank one of their naval ships, unprovoked, and tensions between the two countries reached a fever pitch. This year’s meeting marks the first time since then that the reunion has been held.
The bittersweet nature of this event is enhanced by the stark reality that the families’ time together is so short-lived—measured in hours and days, as opposed to the years and decades they should’ve been able to spend with each other. With an average age of 84, most of the men and women who gathered in that hotel ballroom will never see each other alive again.
It’s a scenario that few people in other developed countries can imagine, but these kinds of circumstances do exist, begging the question:
What would you do? Would you rather have the opportunity for a brief reunion with your loved ones, followed by a heart-breaking parting, or would it just be better not to have met at all?
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