korean drama · personal

The tests of love

I’m a sucker for great, period dramas with central themes on love, sacrifice and friendship. Something about historical settings and the manner of speech make conversations much more meaningful and poetic. People these days speak so casually of love, but in the olden times, they were poetic and romantic and deep in meaning. I’m an old soul, I think. But just the same, in the old and present times, love always has a clear expression, not of language, but of action. Love always must show itself in action.

Tying that sentiment with my love for period dramas, I’m actually enjoying this new show I’ve been watching lately. It’s a historical adaption of the rise of Wang So, the fourth emperor of Joseon Dynasty. The show has taken a creative license to the original Chinese version, and there’s a fantasy element to it, so most of the events are fictional, typical of a drama that wants to focus on the love story. In general, it is more than a love story because it focuses on the characters that make up the historical account of the rise of Emperor Gwangjong. But the love story is so central to this retelling and it has made me reflect a lot on love, more than I have on any previous dramas.

To sort of summarize, a modern girl named Hae soo gets transported in time, a thousand years back, to King Taejo’s reign. She finds herself as a lady of a noble house, cousin of the wife of one of the 14 princes. She and the 8th Prince fall in love over the course of time, and with all the complications of their stature, position, and culture, they make their love work with promises to wait for each other. They are genuinely in love but the timing just never works for them. Stacked up against palace politics, ambition to the throne, and the greater powers that be, their love struggled to endure. Over and over, he would promise to look after her and protect her, be her knight in shining armor. But it was too good to be true. She becomes the ultimate victim, falling from her position, almost getting killed, and eventually getting kicked out of the palace. And while at that, the heartbreaking moment was seeing her lover turn his back on her when she needed him the most, because ambition and family politics got in the way.

I was thinking about this when the latest episode came out. A year has passed and she has become a water maid in the palace, the lowest of lows. He comes to see her finally, and when they meet, they have this longing stare that pierces your heart, but they stay at an arm’s length. He asks whether she’s angry at him and upset that he couldn’t do anything for her. He asks her if she’s physically well, and she says she misses him. He explains that he’s found himself useless, which was why he couldn’t go to her anymore. Still, she missed him, she said. She tearfully asks him, “did you miss me, even once?” And he replies, “Every day. I longed for you everyday.”

“Then that is all I need. That is enough for me”, she says.

The scene was poignant and moving, yet when it finished, I didn’t feel as sold to his love as I used to, and I didn’t want to relate with Hae soo. His words didn’t carry weight for me anymore. They seemed shallow and empty of meaning. Was it really enough, just knowing you have someone’s thoughts and worries and affections? Was that love? Why, then, did he abandon you at your greatest need? It was very clear that this guy she is so madly in love with, can only love her to a point –a point of words and romantic expressions, a point of convenience, as long as it didn’t require him to throw away his position. I don’t doubt his love, but I don’t like how conditional and one-sided it was. She almost got killed yet he still turned his back on her. Hollow words, empty promises. Comparing it to the main character Wang so (the lead and the future Emperor Gwangjong), he had full, reckless abandon of his position in order to protect her. He loved her and proved it by sticking with her when the going got tough. He was her ultimate protector, and he didn’t have to say a lot of words to prove it.

I think love is always tested in action. We can express love in the most poetic of words, but what use would they have when they need proving and sacrifice? Would they hold or sink?

God loved us this much.

I think about the fact of love needing proof, and I need not go further because God loved us this much. The King sent his own Son to die on the cross in our place. He didn’t just love us poetically  –“I have loved you with an everlasting love” (Jeremiah 31:3); he proved it. “For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son…” (John 3:16). Jesus gave up his position and became a man, and bore all the sins of humanity, of all he loved. And he paid for it with his life.

Nothing is greater an example than this.

Love is giving and dying to one’s self. Love always thinks of the other person, of what would be the best for them. Love never abandons, but protects and endures.

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