The obvious first choice is my parents, but they are far away in Korea and not very good at communicating via any means other than KakaoTalk, which I understand not everyone uses (unless you are Korean, in which case you definitely have the app downloaded at the very least, and depending on how Korean you are, possibly have purchased some cute animated in-app stickers as well. For the record, I have Dokkaebi and Ryan stickers and they have added a flair to my text messages that you cannot create with just plain old words).
So the Sullivans are the next best option for lodging any and all Yurie-related complaints. Since my middle school years they've filled an enormous number of roles in my life, including but not limited to teachers, volleyball coaches, guidance counselors, mentors, spiritual parents, and friends, and have had a large hand in shaping things like my "character" and "values" over time. I consequently view them, as, after my real parents, the two individuals who are the most to blame for how and why I have turned out the way that I am today.
I met and got to know Mrs. Sullivan first. She bounded energetically into my life and the lives of my classmates (about fourteen of us in all, in the whole grade) when she came on board as CCS's middle school math teacher at the start of eighth grade (my eighth grade year that is, not hers). On our first day of Algebra I, she spent such a long time at the start of class telling us about herself and asking us about ourselves that I wondered if we were going to while away the whole period just chatting until I realized, with a thrill, that that was precisely her intention. And so, over those next fifty minutes, Mrs. Sullivan proceeded to joke with us, wave her arms around a lot, and regale us with fun stories from her experiences teaching in Canada.
The one that has stuck in my mind ever since then was the one about a time when two of her male students showed up on her doorstep without any warning one evening and casually invited themselves in to hang out and chat. Tell jokes, shoot the breeze. Admittedly, when you look at it in writing like this it doesn't sound like a very interesting story (sorely lacking in plot, no conflict to speak of, and only faintly fleshed out characters), but at the time I remember listening to her tell it and thinking, this is the coolest teacher I have ever heard of.
In the year that followed, Mrs. Sullivan taught me that solving for x was not such an intimidating task, and that anything could be fun if you chose to make it so, even math. It was very much her fault that I came to firmly believe it was possible for a person to be both legitimately cool and also unrestrainedly excited about the smallest of things. Unfortunately, at twenty-four, I've only really nailed the latter and not the former, but that's a separate issue.
The next year, I moved up into high school and into the daunting new territory that was Mr. Sullivan's legendarily time-consuming group projects, whose collective reputation preceded them, and incited fear. To this day, I still cannot tell you what long-term good spending hours with three of my classmates creating a papier-mâché globe covered with painstakingly shaped clay continents and topographically notable landforms did me besides affording me the opportunity to memorize the lyrics to the classic MC Mong hit "I Love You, Oh Thank You" during the long evenings of mountain-sculpting and ocean-painting. (Still a guaranteed good time at karaoke! Oh, I'm fun.) Trust me, I have thought about this many times, and still have yet to come up with any sort of satisfying answer. But I can say this, at least: the memories of those late nights with friends and the satisfaction of creating something beautiful with our hands have long outlasted those of any other mundane homework assignment, quiz, or essay I turned in during my high school years. So that must be worth something.
Also, people always tell you when you're in high school that in the years to come, you won't remember or care about the grades you got then, but I definitely, vividly remember that we got a 98/100 on that globe, and yeah, that still makes me happy, so suck it, everyone who's ever tried to make me have some healthy perspective on what's important in life.
The Globe Project™ was for our ninth grade Geography class, in case you were wondering. I do not remember much else from that class besides the fact that the official state fruit of Georgia is the peach.
After ninth grade, the rest of my high school years blur together here and there. Which means I can't say when exactly it was that the Sullivans stopped being just teachers and started being the fifty-three other things they became for me.
Here is one very likely possibility: it was when the two of them first became the coaches for the boys' and girls' volleyball teams. The first time I ever laid eyes on a medicine ball and learned its purposes was when we had our first pre-season conditioning with Mr. Sullivan. I remember a lot of phrases like "this is good for you" and "oh, quit whining" being thrown around at the girls' team (and the boys too) that fall. I don't think we ever quit whining, but we did start building up muscles in the right places (hitherto believed to be impossible) and even some much-needed agility, and, over the next few years under the Sullivans' joint coaching, started coming together as a real team and, more importantly, winning more games than we lost. (Jokes! Obviously, building teamwork is more important winning games and crushing your opponents into despair and taking home plaques and reveling in the euphoria of victory for days. Obviously.) And in between games, after practices, in locker rooms, Mrs. S gradually became confidant as well as coach to all the girls, while Mr. S was always on hand to give advice and encouragement, and keep us from getting too rowdy on buses to our away games.
Another possibility: it was when Mrs. Sullivan single-handedly revived the school's National Honor Society and inducted a dozen or so of CCS's most straight-edge, goody-two-shoes kids (this includes myself, obviously) into it. With Mrs. S at the helm, the NHS undertook ambitious projects to serve the school and the community the likes of which Centennial Christian had never seen before. A good way to give you an idea of the sort of person Mrs. Sullivan is: she was then, and remains now, the kind of teacher who could get twelve high schoolers somehow on board with coming to school at the ungodly hour of 6am to cook and serve breakfast for the entire school faculty for Teacher Appreciation Week and supervise the whole operation enthusiastically, all while preventing everyone from realizing that she was, in fact, a teacher herself too, who deserved as much as anyone to be appreciated with slightly soggy French toast and inordinate amounts of scrambled eggs.
It may have been at these times that the Sullivans started to fill the hundred different roles that they filled in my life. But more likely it was in all the in-between times.
There was the night that Claire, Yejin, Jisoo and I were at school late working on a project (probably assigned by Mr. Sullivan), and, rather than making our parents worry about our getting home safely on the subway when it was so dark out, they invited us all to stay over at their apartment, which was right next to school. We invaded their living room and likely ate into their precious few sleeping hours with our boisterousness, but they just laughed at us and at our glee about getting to have a sleepover on a school night (about on par with getting away with murder, in high school). I think there is a picture somewhere of the four of us bundled up in our blankets and cheesing super hard that Mrs. Sullivan took on her Canon before we all went to bed. A very motherish thing to do.
Then there were the few months in my junior year when I found myself walking through a frighteningly dark valley in my spiritual life. Faith turned upside down, God disappeared, and fear set in all sides and shut me in with no visible way of escape. I shared my hopelessness with only my best friends, and the Sullivans.
I didn't tell my parents; neither of them believed in God back then. I couldn't say to them, "I'm scared that God isn't real after all." "Because he isn't," I feared they would say.
So for adult comfort and wisdom I looked to the Sullivans, as I clung to my last few, fragile strands of hope, which felt like they would break any second. They saw me at the most defeated and afraid I've ever been, and they held me up. Figuratively, but often literally too. Some days Mrs. Sullivan just wrapped me in a hug without saying anything, and fear went away for a moment.
And spring rolled around and after months of blackness, God showed himself to me and the world felt right side up again. The Sullivans shared in my joy.
At the end of that school year, Mr. Sullivan wrote in my yearbook, "Luke 22:32."
I went home on that last day of school and read the verse and cried.
Mr. Sullivan was the only other person I knew who watched Doctor Who, before Matt Smith and Karen Gillan and Steven Moffat and BBC America carried the show into mainstream global consciousness a few years years later. He introduced me to Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog, which I thought was the most brilliant and inventive piece of art I'd ever seen. More importantly, Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog later became the primary factor that led to Emily and me becoming freshman year roommates at Berkeley: I saw that it was on her Facebook profile that it was one of her favourite shows (remember when that was thing?) and based on this information alone I sent her a friend request to ask her to be my roommate. One year after that, it served as the main point of bonding that Edwin and I connected over in the first conversation I ever had with him my sophomore year. It would not be a stretch to say that I owe two of my most important relationships thus, in large part, to Mr. Sullivan.
Mr. S also introduced me to Isaac Asimov's Foundation series books, and gave me a DVD with a couple of his favourite episodes of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip and The West Wing on it. These last two were the only two of the many things he recommended to me that failed to stick. He overestimated my intelligence, probably, a classic parent mistake. Also, Battlestar Galactica. Unfortunately for him even my nerdiness had its limits.
Love just emanates from them, wherever they go and whoever they're with. They are the kind of people who make it look like an effortless thing, a state of being. "It just comes naturally to some people," you'd think, looking at them.
But to think that is to not do them full justice. Loving is work, it's time, it's money, it's prayers prayed and tears shed in private, it's frustration held in against our immediate impulses. And often it's being repaid for all of this with an ungrateful remark or a bitter complaint and precious little else.
I should know; I had my share of times being on the giving end of ungrateful remarks and complaints directed at the Sullivans. And on those occasions they didn't tell me to stop being a bratty teenager and get over myself, which they would have been fully justified in doing. More often than not, they apologized, and asked me to forgive them. What on earth they had to apologize for, goodness knows, but they did and they meant it, and it still humbles me now to think of it, years later.
This is what the Sullivans' love looks like.
I have seen them, first up close and then from an ocean away, take in every single student that has ever passed through the too-narrow halls of CCS, and offer them this kind of love for the taking. Not just the students who were at the center of everything, but also, and especially, the ones who had not been loved elsewhere, the ones who were angry or hurt, the ones who mocked God, the ones who were alone. Their home, classrooms, and offices were a safe place for anyone to come and vent, or grieve, or seek advice -- or just pop in for a chat. Tell jokes, shoot the breeze.
I realized after I graduated and began living in America just how rare and special that is, how lucky I was, to have had that.
In a lot of ways it's almost easier for me to see how I resemble the Sullivans than it is to see how I resemble my actual parents. The tendency toward high levels of excitement: without question a trait inherited from Mrs. S. All the geeky sides of me, and an appreciation for well-written dialogue: cultivated, obviously, by Mr. S. My love of hosting people: picked up from both of them as a natural side effect of years of spending time in an apartment that was pretty much a constantly revolving door for guests. And a multitude of other things.
Something I think about from time to time is how we're all, as individuals, just different combinations of the people around us. If we are, then I am probably 33% my parents, 33% my close friends, 33% the Sullivans, and 1% Mindy Kaling (she doesn't know I exist, but I somehow feel like I've spent a lot of time with her, you know? One of the many wonderful things about social media). On the whole, I think I am pretty happy with this combination, and the current result, at the twenty-four year marker. But like I said, if you're not, please send your complaints to the Sullivans. They have done too much in my life for me not to hold them partly responsible for what that life looks like today.
I will always be very grateful.