Reminiscing in the Underworld

In Along With the Gods, recently deceased firefighter Kim Ja-hong is accompanied by three protectors on his journey through the underworld. Having lived a particularly virtuous life, Ja-hong is “a paragon,” a sort of golden ticket for his guardians should he pass all seven trials of hell and be reborn.

Needless to say, the adventure is far from uneventful, and yet, in a quiet moment in a cable car, assistant guardian Lee Deok-choon gets to make an observation. Having guided thousands of souls across the dangerous planes, she notes their stories all have something in common: “Even the most painful memories become beautiful ones when they talk about them here in the underworld.”

Sure enough, Ja-hong sounds nostalgic when he talks about his brother annoyingly pestering their mother to take them for a cable car ride when they were younger. As he attends trial after trial, rewatching scene after scene from his life, Ja-hong can’t help but prove Deok-choon’s point. No matter whether he sees himself losing a fellow firefighter in a burning building, working non-stop to pay his mother’s medical bills, or almost crashing his car because he falls asleep at the wheel, Ja-hong is all tears and smiles. It’s not hard to see the reason: Regardless of how much he suffered in the moment, in the end, his experiences always served a purpose — but now that he’s dead, those experiences have ended altogether.

After we die, we no longer get to feel anything. No sadness. No joy. No pain. No happiness. Perhaps, rather than just hoping for an afterlife in which we’ll still get to reminisce, at least every now and then, we should cherish our feelings, experiences, and memories — in their entirety, not just the “Greatest Hits Edition” — while we’re still here.

Safe travels, and remember: Even the worst moment can become a good story, but the only way to find out the ending is to keep walking until you’re back in good company, ready to tell it.