Korean Encore

Lavinia Spalding

I was sitting on the steps of a tiny Buddhist hermitage high on a mountain in Gyeongju, South Korea, when Myung-Jung Sunim, the resident nun I’d met a few hours before, pointed up. “Look,” she said. “The moon is bright. The stars are bright. That’s because you came here.”

Myung-Jung Sunim and I sat, admiring the sky, the silhouetted pine trees, the stillness. Shortly before 8 p.m.—when we’d begin observing noble silence—we headed inside and she said goodnight, leaving me alone in the small shrine room. I glanced at my blanket on the floor. I knew I should sleep; meditation would begin at 4 a.m., after which we’d climb to the top of Namsan Mountain. But to close my eyes now seemed insane: Outside my window was a national treasure, and at this moment, I was the only human on the planet looking at it.


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The road was new to me, as roads always are, going back.” –Sarah Orne Jewett