I was teaching this morning when I got a message telling me that my old friend Kyung had died. Kyung had been a big presence in my life during what I think were very dark years for both of us. We met in the midst of a mild bender in Manly, introduced by a mutual friend, and hit it off immediately. Back in those days, both Kyung and I were living on the ragged, bleeding edge of excess and self destruction, and one tragedy of his death is that I think the reason we hadn't seen each other in years was because together we tended to enable each other's bad behaviour. We seemed to be both going through a largely unspoken process of getting ourselves right, and I think we both knew we needed to be apart to get that done. It looks as if Kyung had pretty well got there, which makes his passing doubly unfair. And the other tragedy, this one for me alone, is that because of the way we interacted I don't believe anyone who loved him would ever wish to see my face, especially not at his funeral.
So this is my act of remembrance.
When I think of Kyung, what I mostly remember is his anger. He was furious – at his ethnicity, at everyone and everything that snubbed him for it, at all the world's injustice, the greed and mendacity of humanity, and at himself. I guess that's a big key to why we got along so well. I remember when we'd talk, solving the problems of the world, the incandescent rage and hatred which would flame in his eyes as his jaw muscles suddenly jumped out the side of his head, his fists and shoulders balled and rolled like he was preparing to physically rip evil from the world with his bare hands. I remember times when we'd be talking politics over a beer and staff would be shooting us concerned glances, edging towards us as if expecting a fight to erupt between us at any moment. And then suddenly we'd both stop, one of us (usually Kyung) would drop a gag and we'd be laughing like crazy donkeys and agreeing to disagree. I remember that laugh. It was a kind of high powered machine gun cackle, like his laughter was the steel capped emergency relief valve on a nuclear reactor gone critical. And I suppose it was.
Love, hate, fury, and laughter. These were the major components of Kyung as I knew him. He so hated evil and injustice. He was one of those rare – all too rare – people for whom the dichotomy of good and evil was a source of actual, physical distress. And his hatred of the perpetrators of evil and discrimination was an equally physical force. Everything about the way he reacted to the world was writ so large it was impossible not to see the immense love, generosity, and care for humanity which drove and animated him. And this wasn't confined to the abstract, either. He was a loyal, dependable, entertaining, and absolute friend. Kyung practiced total friendship in the way some nations practice total war. He would literally go several extra miles for anyone he counted as a friend. He never once failed me, and it is with bitter regret that I remember the times I failed him – failures I will now never be able to scrub out or repair. Kyung was the sort of friend you could call, tell him you were bored, and half an hour later he'd be at your front door with a case of beer, a cheeky grin, and a furious determination not to accept any money or thanks for either. Such a trivial example to illustrate such an enormous reservoir of generosity, kindness, and concern for the people in his life doesn't seem to do him justice, but it's the thing I remember most vividly.
I remember our long and heated political arguments, our twenty four hour gaming marathons, our weird and hectic night-time missions through empty, darkened streets, our clenched, angry existences seeming to be in tandem as we ate up the miles of road beneath our wheels. But I mostly remember laughing. Kyung loved to laugh, and not least of all at himself. For such a serious, intense soul, he was ever ready to laugh a great fat belly laugh at any or all of his own foibles. Another way in which his largeness of spirit outstripped my own. I remember Kyung as a man on fire, lit with profound, intense, and above all selfless concerns. A being constructed in proportions of greatness. I'll miss him, and I regret bitterly the failure of my half-thought plans to one day, older, wiser, and weirder, reconnect over a beer and laugh again about all the stupid, brilliant, and just plain hilarious stuff we'd done.
Vale, my friend. Sleep now, and be at peace.