Friday, December 1, 2006

Movements & Currents: Snowbound

by Greg Castilla

Christmas songs have slowly filled the air. Christmas shoppers have started their yearly ritual of looking for the best buy. Our neighbors have started to decorate their homes with colorful and blinking lights. Christmas cards have started coming in. Best of all, my daughter Mutya, who is studying at Regis University in Denver, will be home for the holidays in two weeks. Our family will be complete this Christmas.

But despite the festive mood that’s beginning to blanket my surroundings, the recent death of James Kim has not gotten off my mind yet. And I did not even know the man. It must be the circumstances of his death. It must be that we both have two daughters. It must be that at 35, he was too young to die. I think of how his wife Kati and their two young daughters Penelope, 4, and Sabine, 7 months, will be spending the Christmas season.

Kim was the San Francisco native who, in a desperate attempt to save his family trapped in snowy Oregon Mountains, left his family in their car to look for help one week after being stranded.

Two days after Kim left his family, rescuers found Kati and the children.

Four days after Kim’s Herculean trek in search for help, his lifeless body was found not far from where he had left his family. A victim of hypothermia.

The Kims spent Thanksgiving in Seattle and were on their way back to San Francisco when they missed the turnoff and ended in a slightly traveled road amidst heavy snow. To keep warm, they ran the engine of their car to power the heater. When they ran out of gas, they burned the tires. When the little food they had was gone, Kati breastfed her two children.

The discovery of Kim’s body marked the end of a saga that was closely followed by the print and broadcast media in the Pacific Northwest. Now the media hardly mention the Kims. The “news” is over. But not for me.

No doubt, James’ only intention was to protect and save his family. People have commented that had he not left his family, he would have been still alive today. That’s true. But life is not a 20/20 vision. We don’t live by hindsight. We make decisions based on what we perceive is the right thing to do at the moment.

I still think of the Kim family. I wonder if Christmas means anything to Kati and the two daughters. At 7 months old, Sabine probably does not have much recollection of her dad. But what about Penelope? Is she going to be happy this Christmas? I wonder if Kati is even thinking of buying a Christmas tree. She will probably buy gifts for her children, but deep in her heart someone is missing in her life. Christmas is supposed to be joyous. I doubt if Kati is in the mood to celebrate.

When my family and relatives gather on Christmas Eve to exchange gifts, sing carols, and partake in the traditional “Noche Buena,” Penelope and Sabine will probably also be opening gifts and enjoying a sumptuous dinner prepared by their mom.

Sad but true, this Christmas will be poignant for the Kims. That so many of us in the Pacific Northwest have been touched by the heroism displayed by James should give the family solace and renewed hope.