Eun-soo’s Transformation and Her Love for Young
Part 1- Eun-soo’s Transformation in Goryeo and Her Choice to Stay.
Eun-soo is a hard character to understand. Is it because of her time-traveling mystery that the writer is so secretive about Eun-soo? We don’t know her history, we don’t know who she really is, and we have no idea where she is going. We are rarely allowed a window into her thoughts and when we get a view into her heart, it comes as a surprise. Eun-soo smiles and laughs, talks and complains. But behind that facade, she cries, fears, and dies….alone. Visions of death and blood haunt her every night but she puts on a bright smile every morning for everyone else, for herself, and for Young.
In a way, she is more of a warrior than Young. She is a survivor to the core. She grabs onto life with all her might. Yet, before she met Young, that life she struggled so hard for in her world had nothing it in. We don’t know if she is just not talking about them but she never mentions her friends or anyone she really loved. Who did she open her heart to in her world? Who did she share her life with? She had boyfriends before but none that she loved with all her heart. Family is an integral part of our lives, yes, and I’m sure Eun-soo’s parents are important to her but after Eun-soo’s parents die of old age, who was going to be by Eun-soo’s side in her world? Who was she going to spend the rest of her life with?
“Knife Wind” (“Faith” OST)
When Eun-soo went to see the fortune-teller, she wanted to know when and how she can meet a man but it wasn’t because she wanted to love him. It was because she needed financial support. Eun-soo didn’t care about love or believe in it. Her life was only for herself and how she can live it comfortably. When Young kept on refusing treatment and she finally exploded at him, she talked about missing her world for the first time. But she only mentioned the apartment she recently bought and how she wanted to use its bathroom and sleep in her own bed. She didn’t mention any friends or anyone waiting for her inside that new home. Despite all the materialistic fulfillment that the apartment provided, Eun-soo’s life was empty. She had nothing…no, she had no one to miss in her world.
Eun-soo confessed to Jang Bin that she wasn’t able to open her heart to anyone in her world. She always thought, “This is too bothersome,” or “No, he’s not the one. This isn’t it.” She refused love or perhaps, she didn’t know what love was. Even in Goryeo, when she knew she missed Young when he wasn’t around and it felt comfortable to be with him, she thought to herself that he couldn’t be the one. But Young was always there, showing her what love is. Together, Young learned to love again and Eun-soo learned to love for the first time in her life.
Eun-soo found love and life in Goryeo. She found a purpose for her medical knowledge and skill. In her world, she had given up general surgery because she was afraid to deal with death but when forced to confront it with Young, she faced death and brought him back to life. She wanted to save Choong-jung because she knew how important the boy was to Young. She healed Yi Sung-gye because she wanted to be useful around the medical ward that housed her. She treated Noguk because she was her friend. Eun-soo always had it in her to be a wonderful doctor but in her world, it was easy to run away. In Young’s world, she couldn’t. Confronted with death nearly every day, she saw how valuable her skill was to save lives. Because she learned to care about the people around her, she couldn’t help but use her knowledge.
Being in Goryeo changed Eun-soo. She has love. She has friends she cares about- the Woodalchi, Gongmin, and Noguk. She actually wants to use her medical knowledge to save lives. She has purpose. Her life is no longer an empty house with nice things in it. She may be sleeping in the army barracks on a hard bed in Goryeo but her life is full of warmth, happiness, people, and love.
When Young argued that she would at least be alive in her world, she said to him, “Yes I will probably live. In my room in the heavenly world, I will just live. Every day talking to people whose faces I don’t recognize, saying things all day long I don’t mean. Then when it’s night, I’m going to come back to an empty room. Every time I sleep, I will call out once- ‘Are you there?’ but I know there won’t be a reply. I will wake up and live another day like that- like I am dead. Don’t you know what living like that is like? You know. Because you are going to do that to.”
In Eun-soo’s mind, she has nothing to go back to in her world. Sure, she will be alive and she will be living each day like any other person. She will smile, she will hang out with friends, she will work, and she will sleep. But Eun-soo has lived that life before and back then, she didn’t see anything wrong with it. After life in Goryeo, however, she can’t bear to go back to a world like that. Taking what she learned from Goryeo and changing her specialty to general surgery in her world, she might come home satisfied every day after saving someone’s life but there will be no one to share that happiness with or anybody to comfort her if a patient dies on the table. She will call out, “Are you there?” but no one will answer her. Her bed will be comfortable but there will be no one lying next to her.
There is a battle inside Eun-soo. She knows how empty her life will be in her world and how crazy it will drive her to not know how Young is doing if she goes back to her world. Is he going to live like the way he used to when Mae-hee died? And now with his hand, what will he have left in the world to do, to be? But she also knows how much it will hurt him to watch her die if she just stays. Either way in Eun-soo’s mind, Young will be devastated and live like the living dead. So Eun-soo decides to be selfish and stay in Goryeo, even though she might die. She’d rather live out the remainder of her life with Young and have someone next to her to hold her in the darkness. She’d rather bet on that small, infinitesimal possibility of making the antibiotic on time in Goryeo so she doesn’t have to leave. She’d rather hold onto that sliver of a chance against death rather than certain life in her world. There is a small hope for a happy ending in Goryeo but certain unhappiness if she returns to her world. Remember I said Eun-soo is a survivor? Before she struggled for a life that was empty but now she is hanging on with all her strength to a life that promises happiness.
Part 2- Love that Transcends Time and Space
“Forever” (“Faith” OST)
Image edited by Softy
We don’t know how Eun-soo left herself those letters. We don’t know how many times Eun-soo traveled back in time to Young. The only thing we know for sure is that there was at least one timeline in which Eun-soo already met Young and fell in love, but their story didn’t end happily. So Eun-soo lived in regret and wished desperately to change the past to save the man that she loved. Was it the power of her love? What was her sacrifice so she could live another lifetime for Young?
After episode sixteen, when “Future” Eun-soo described in her letter that on the day of Deok Heung’s trap for Young, chrysanthemums were blooming by the windowsill, I decided to look and see if there was any symbolic meaning in Korea to the chrysanthemum. In my search, I discovered a famous and beautiful poem that featured the chrysanthemum and as soon I read “Beside a Chrysanthemum,” Eun-soo and her story came to mind. But at that time I was still unsure what Eun-soo’s story was so I just stored the poem away. However, when episode twenty rolled along and I knew for sure that Eun-soo went through a lot to be with Young, this poem came back into my mind again.
Original Korean poem
국화 옆에서 / 서정주
한 송이의 국화꽃을 피우기 위해
그렇게 울었나 보다.
한 송이의 국화꽃을 피우기 위해
천둥은 먹구름 속에서
또 그렇게 울었나 보다.
그립고 아쉬움에 가슴 조이던
머언 먼 젊음의 뒤안길에서
인제는 돌아와 거울 앞에 선
내 누님같이 생긴 꽃이여
노오란 내 꽃잎이 피려고
간밤엔 무서리가 저리 내리고
내게는 잠도 오지 않았나 보다.
English Translation by David McCann, Harvard University
“Beside a Chrysanthemum” by So Chong-ju
To bring one chrysanthemum to flower
The cuckoo has cried since spring.
To bring one chrysanthemum to bloom
Thunder has rolled
Through the black clouds.
Flower, like my sister returning
From distant, youthful byways
Of throat-tight longing
To stand by the mirror:
For your yellow petals to open,
Last night such a frost fell,
And I could not sleep
When you read the poem, you can imagine a man mediating upon the chrysanthemum. He is reminded of his mature, older sister who has returned home after enduring and persevering through many hardships in her youth. He sees the chrysanthemum, an autumn flower, finally blooming after a cold winter, a busy spring, and a thunderous summer. Like the chrysanthemum, his sister has reach maturity after she survived dejection, hope, and fear. Blooming in autumn, the chrysanthemum is a harvest flower that signifies the fruits of one’s life and labor, cause and effect.
I don’t know if the “Faith” writer, Song Ji-na, chose the chrysanthemum for any particular reason. I can’t claim that the chrysanthemum has any connection to Eun-soo. I was merely curious and this poem just happened to fall in my lap, but when I read it, my mind made that connection and the more I thought about it, the more I wanted to weep. When I think that perhaps, Eun-soo has traveled through time over and over again, lived many lifetimes to be with Young, or that Young and Eun-soo’s love is a product of hundreds of years of waiting and searching, my heart brims over with bittersweet tears.
Here’s to hoping that Young and Eun-soo’s love can finally bloom in the warm sunlight of autumn- a love that has overcome time and space.
“The Facts on File Companion to World Poetry: 1900 to the Present” by R. Victoria Arana (2008).
“Charm of Korean Poetry on Flowers” by Kim Seong-kon (The Korean Herald, 2010).
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