“Three cm and 120 dB”
Four summers ago, there I was, detained within the concrete cell I call home. I was looking out the window, dismayed about having to live out yet another summer in grey and lifeless Seoul. Yes, Greater Seoul houses millions of people—24 million in fact—but Seoulites reminded me of ants, forever preparing for the coming winter. I closed my eyes and dreamt of America. Life had more scope and people were warmer there. Suddenly, a loud trill shattered my muse.
Her needle–like legs were hugging the mosquito screen, and a white timbal at the tip of her abdomen was vibrating so rapidly that it was visible only during some odd moments of silence. She sang as if possessed, no, as if it was her only purpose in life, awakening the memories of her ancestors and hollering of the mightiness of her tribe that lives to sing despite the grayness. Her song seemed to mock my fantasy of escaping to America.
Then, as suddenly as she had come, the cicada dropped dead. I stood in front of my window, trying to make sense of the bizarre incident. Where had this little vermin come from? Had she been attracted by my despair—maybe she smelled my distress while sitting on a branch in the park across the street—or was she lost, separated from her tribe, and was looking for an audience to perform her last song? As she died, did she feel fear? Despair?
I laughed off my wandering thoughts, and dedicated myself to carping again. A few days later, I went to the Han River with hope that a hike would resuscitate my usually jovial nature. The riverbank, littered with hundreds of people walking their dogs, enjoying picnics, or just sharing quality time, awakened my memory to the brief camaraderie I had with the cicada. It was transitory at best, but sharing in her song, her passion, and her death had inducted a relationship more intimate than what can be gained even after a lifetime of friendship.
The cicada lives for two glorious weeks, and in death, it provides food for hundreds of ants, or in my case, food for thought. Now, in the jungle of life, I no longer look at the gray, but at the wells of stories its inhabitants have to tell. Learning technical proficiency at dental school is something any dedicated student can do, but the cicada has blessed me with a special experience that instilled in me the sensitivity of heart to find meaning even in the most trivial events of life, such as a cicada’s singing. It is precisely this sensitivity that will enable me to listen not only for the typhoons, but also for the slightest flutters of my patients’ songs.