Despite being favored with all that wealth can offer the wife was soon to find herself struggling to save her husband from the throes of self-abnegation. Appearances being unreliable the evidence of an unruly woe soon surfaced when the husband tried to drown himself with an overdose of barbiturates in his bathtub. The cat, as they say, was out of the bag.
The sight of the happy, wealthy marriage crumbles. The husband is hospitalized leaving the wife feeling helpless. In the face of their despair she seeks to save him.
It’s an ordinary story in many ways. It’s about a young, wealthy married couple. The husband is a Korean American who comes from a devout Christian family. The wife is a blonde, blue-eyed American who participates in her husband’s faith but does so in order to please and accommodate her husband and her husband’s mother. The husband is a conformist. The wife is a peacemaker.
In all respects they appear to have everything the modern material world offers. As stories much like life speak of conflict this couple discovers they are unable to have children. Of course, they seek medical help only to be told that the husband’s sperm is too weak to impregnate the wife. His powerlessness leads to his suicide attempt, her powerlessness leads to something else altogether.
The wife becomes frantic. Although shaken she resolves to help solve the problem. She considers prayer only to be told by her husband, “God will not give us a child.” Hearing this, the wife concocts a plan to find a sperm donor that looks like her husband. By a chance meeting at her fertility clinic she overhears a young Korean man turned away as a sperm donor. He wants to sell his sperm for cash, but the clinic rejects him because they discover he is an illegal alien making it impossible for the clinic to do a required background check.
The wife sees this as fortuitous and decides to follow the unhappy man. She knows he is willing to sell his sperm, but she knows little else. It turns out he lives in a rundown tenement. With only the knowledge of his willingness to sell his sperm and that he looks like her husband she waits for him on the stairwell to his apartment. When he returns she explains she’d like to hire him to donate his sperm to her for cash. She tells him that for each impregnation she will pay him $300 and when she gets pregnant he will receive $30,000 in cash.
The young man, solemn and perhaps reticent agrees to the deal whereby they begin at once. He performs his work without complaint or joy. The wife similarly remains stoic during each encounter and seems to endure it as a means to an end.
But again, as appearances are unreliable, things change. The young man begins to want to know more about her. It begins with small seemingly innocent questions such as what’s your name and where do you live? But the wife reveals little as she undresses and places her clothes into a plastic bag as his apartment is worn and scruffy.
Again as daily life unfolds the young donor happens to see the wife with her husband in an expensive car from the backroom of a cleaner where he works part-time. He discovers two things, she is wealthy and her husband looks like him. The young man decides to press for more information. He insists she take him to lunch before he does his does his work. He orders expensive food and begins to drink telling her he can perform better with a few drinks. He continues to demand and she resists. They both end up in an angry shouting match in the restaurant.
With a rift between them, they both leave angry and go their separate ways. But the young donor turns back and finds the wife in a doorway crying. She allows the young donor to embrace her and hold her while she weeps. He walks her to a place in a nearby park where he shows her a pile of rocks. He tells her that he makes a wish and places a rock on top of the cairn in order to help him throughout the day to keep his wish in mind. She wants to know if it works since she earlier had asked her husband to teach her to pray but was told by him that prayer was useless. The young donor, on the other hand, tells the young wife that his stone does seem to work for him, that it does matter.
They return to his shabby apartment where it becomes obvious that something has changed. It is no longer a suffering through experience but one of mutuality of kissing, caressing and lovemaking. The wife becomes pregnant.
Once she discovers she is pregnant she returns to the young donor and tells him that she will never see him again because she is pregnant then hands him the $30,000 in cash. She returns to her husband and tells him a lie so that he will believe the child is his and all looks like it is going as she wished. There is a brief period of an appearance of happiness between the wife and the husband. But as appearances are unreliable, it is short-lived.
Both the wife and the young donor are unable to get each other out of their mind. In time she returns to see him where she sleeps with him but tells him it must end. The husband, in the meantime, finds out about the young donor and turns him into the immigration police whereby he is picked-up and immediately sent back to Korea.
In a heated argument the husband tells the wife to abort the baby and he will forget everything and they can begin again. The wife becomes hysterical and tells him no but he persists until she screams at him that it is not his baby, but hers. “It’s mine!” she tells him. When she refuses to abort the child, he pushes her and kicks her in attempt to kill the baby.
At the end of the film the wife appears on a beach similar to a photograph of a beach in the shabby apartment of the young donor. She plays with a young boy, obviously her son and then retreats to the sand where she is noticeably pregnant.
What looked like a rescue mission for her despairing husband became a transforming series of experiences for the wife. The declaration, “It’s mine!” was a declaration of the wife’s new birth. She claims something she conceived. She verified for the husband the baby is not his, but something that belongs to her. It is clear that she is resolute. She does not yield to the husband. His persistent demand to abort the child makes it clear she is unbending to his will. She is emancipated, free of his will, his wish and his choice. She makes a steadfast choice.
And this choice is immutable. Nothing seems to challenge her. She remains resolute and unspoiled by his pleadings to abort what she has done and remains literally undamaged by his physical attack. She bears what is hers and does not cave in to the assaults levied against her. She is free from the ties of worry, helplessness and overwrought concern to save her husband.
Her response to suffering as a worried, concerned wife took her through the door of independence. The husband seems to remain caught in the social and perfunctory tradition of his family. His determination to get his way, to resort to physically hurting her suggests he has much work to do to escape the binds of his conditioning.
Her awakening was sudden although it developed over time through the ordinary events of her life as a wife. She unexpectedly cut the binds to the husband by choosing life no matter what the consequences might be.
Change, that which is not seen, is inevitable but it is neither an accident nor a plan; it is more an inexplicable mixture that follows the law of the universe. It is a paradox of knowing we are not in charge, and yet we are responsible to do our very best to end suffering right in the middle of it.
The husband wanted to abandon his life because he saw himself as a failure despite his youth, good looks, wealth and upbringing. But his relinquishment and focus were never very far from his own interests and self-concerns. He wanted to appear to be a success. He wanted to maintain the strictures of a tradition even those he felt were useless. He is not to be reviled but to be understood for where he is.
The wife took risks out of love and her sense of helplessness in relation to her husband’s despair and suicide attempt. She went beyond her self-concerns and did what she felt she needed to do to save her husband, her marriage and to give birth to new life. She did not live in the confines of how it might look to others. She was willing to endure what she initially felt was a repugnant duty which later becomes her saving grace
There was something pure, innocent and good about her actions and in the end her risks saved her from a deadened, wooden somewhat perfunctory life. She found herself in a place she never could have imagined, never could have planned or propagated from her schemes and plans. She knew something else was important than how it looked and was willing to risk her relationship, her marriage and her life to find it. Did it look anything like what she might have thought at the beginning of her actions? Probably not! But she is able to recognize what has happened to her when she declares amidst threats from her husband to abort the baby, “It’s mine.” The new life in her is hers!
Remarkably the efforts were taken through ordinary means, although the means could have led to her death. Imagine hiring a stranger to impregnate her? She risked her life. She was blessed with finding a donor who was an honorable man, a hard-working, devoted man. He prayed with stones. He had faith. He began to care for her and refrained from doing her harm which he easily could have done.
Her faith saves her, not a prescribed faith imbedded in doctrine, dogma and rules, but something unruly, unbidden and unknown which flows out unexpectedly. There are telltale signs of what affects it but it comes with no specific, literal guaranteed outcome. What we do know is that it involves the conversion of the heart and mind and a willingness to be converted, suddenly converted. .
Spiritual change which is what is most important is neither blind nor magical but it does often surprise and amaze us. When it happens we experience it but often are unable to explain how or why it happens. The inexplicable quality of spiritual change is a safeguard against humans poaching God’s territory. The best we can do is to do our sincere best in life as it is. We endure the ordinary, we risk in the ordinary, and we commit our efforts to begin and continue.
Based on the film Never Forever (2007). An excellent film showing the spiritual potential of mu in two words, “It’s mine.” Director: Gina Kim Writer: Gina Kim Stars:Vera Farmiga, David Lee McInnis, Joseph Y. Kim
 Mu…a response to a koan often translated as NOT.
Copyright 2015 Yao Xiang Shakya