When your wife has been sentenced to 12 years of hard labor in a North Korean prison camp, missing her phone call leaves you emotionally wrecked. Missing that phone call, when you have only spoken to her three times in the 4 months that she has been detained, is a precious, lost opportunity. That’s what happened to my friend Michael Saldate, husband to Euna Lee.
The thing is that these days, Michael cannot afford to give in to his own emotions. Instead he has to remain purely focused on the wellbeing of his and Euna’s 4-year-old-daughter, Hana. Hana misses her mom desperately and does not understand why she has not returned from her business trip. At least once a day, she breaks down crying for her mommy.
This past weekend, Hana, Michael and Euna’s sister, Jina, joined us in Disneyland for my daughter’s fifth birthday. It was a privilege to have little Hana cavorting and playing alongside my daughter as they ran from one ride to the next. Hana has an angel’s soul. She is gentle and playful, thoughtful and energetic, and like most children her age clearly has her father and aunt wrapped around her little finger! It was Hana’s first time to Disneyland, and she was determined to meet some Princesses. As we rode through it’s a Small World, she squealed with delight with each new section. Her enthusiasm is infectious and my own five year old would now seem to have a life-long playmate well intact.
Days like these for Hana are important ones, brief moments that she can escape a reality, that even while she may not fully intellectually process, certainly is taking its emotional toll on her. For Michael, no such a luck. There is no relief from the agony that he and Laura Ling’s family (Euna’s imprisoned colleague) are facing. The rollercoaster of hope and despair is exhausting – Michael described to us how his body intermittently collapses from all the stress. The prior morning, he literally found himself paralyzed in bed, unable to get up. Fortunately, Gina was able to watch Hana as Michael slowly reclaimed his strength and recovered.
Last week was a hard one – as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and North Korean officials traded barbs attacking one another. Words are powerful, and in this case they may have real consequences on the fate of real people, Euna and Laura. Fortunately this week is looking a bit more hopeful. According to accounts, the North Korean government is requesting direct talks with the US government on a host of issues, including the resolution of the fate of Laura and Euna. We have our fingers crossed, but are accustomed now, 4 months later, to the peaks and valleys that sadly define this nightmare.
Based on what he knows from press accounts, briefings by the US State Department and his limited correspondences with Euna in the last 4 months, Michael believes that Euna and Laura are currently being held in a Medical Detention Facility. Indications are that Laura’s pre-existing medical condition (an ulcer) has worsened, and Euna has lost a lot of weight while also having pains in her abdominal region. Michael is confident that his wife and Laura are being treated “fairly,” and have not been transported to the infamous North Korean labor camps as their sentence deems – for that he is very grateful to her captors.
Fortunately, even after missing Michael, Euna was able to connect with her sister Jina. She asked Jina to be there for Hana while she was away, no matter how long this dreadful predicament lasts. Jina says that it’s clear that Euna aches for her daughter, and is more worried about her than for herself. Any mother can relate. Similarly, Laura Ling in her communication with hers sister, Lisa Ling, has been more concerned about her parents’ and family’s welfare than her own. Curious how the human mind copes, how hope twists itself around concern, how suffering is perhaps easier to endure when one places their own attention outside of themselves. God bless Euna Lee and Laura Ling for having the strength to endure the unimaginable. The world could learn a lot by following their lead.
This is not just about Hana needing her mom back. This is about broken families. Husbands and wives torn apart (including Laura’s husband Iain who is equally devastated), sisters, parents, friends all wandering around in the fog of geopolitics, frayed diplomacy, juvenile gamesmanship and emotional terror.
Back to that missed phone call. Euna actually left Michael a specific message on his voice mail. She requested her husband reach out to moms, sensing that they may relate uniquely to her situation. She’s right: every mother instinctively can empathize with the notion of being separated from their child. It’s a gut-wrenching emotion, the worst type of helplessness that can completely physically, emotionally, spiritually, and psychologically overwhelm. To that end, I am personally committed to honoring Euna’s request – to reach out to as many moms as I can to mobilize their efforts in bringing Euna and Laura home as promptly as possible.
I am hopeful that no less than our Nation’s “First Mom” Michelle Obama, a powerful and passionate role model for millions, can add to the choir formally requesting Amnesty for these two young women who have now apologized for whatever crimes they may have committed.
Here are two specific things we can do to help Euna and Laura, and their families.
Sign the petition for Amnesty for Laura Ling and Euna Lee. If you have signed it already, please pass it on to others that you know – friends, colleagues, classmates, mommy groups, church members, etc.
Write to Michelle Obama to get involved and make a statement asking that Euna and Laura be granted Amnesty. You can write to her at:
Mrs. Michelle Obama
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington D.C. 20500
Honestly, your active participation – even if just signing the petition or sending the letter to Michelle Obama – helps the family and the girls know that they are supported and their story not forgotten. It also influences the Administration to know that we are all relying on them to make Euna and Laura’s release a priority. On behalf of Michael, the families of both Euna and Laura, and all of their friends and supporters, we are eternally grateful.
Please Sign the Petition for Amnesty for Laura Ling and Euna Lee
For more information about Laura and Euna and how you can help please go to - http://www.lauraandeuna.com
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Mallika Chopra is the founder of Intent.com, a site focused on personal, social and global wellness