Cursed by A Chinese Beggar

An Angry Beggar

An Angry Beggar

Decades ago, when I lived in Japan, I would take long summer holidays to other countries.  This story is from one of my trips to China and starts as I was walking out of my Beijing hotel:  No sooner had I stepped out of the hotel’s front door than one of the beggars camped outside ran up to me begging with a loud, obnoxious voice and gesturing to me demands for money. I ignored him and walked on.  In retaliation, he hurled at me, what seemed to be, curses. It was a surprisingly eerie experience. I had ignored beggars in many countries before, but this guy had something spooky about him.

One week after the cursing I came down with a bad chest cold. It was a stubborn cold that I dragged back to Japan with me. It took two months for the chest-ripping cough to go away but it was replaced by palpitations, anxiety, and weakness. Doctors could not diagnose a cause for my unrelenting suffering.  I tried every sort of doctor I could find: modern medical doctors, herbalists and acupuncturists. My symptoms dragged on and on but I would not let the illness stop my daily life:  I continued teaching at a university during the day and going to acupuncture school at night.   I lost a lot of weight and was usually depressed — I was no longer my ebullient, out-going, invulnerable self.  But finally, a little more than a year after the curse, the illness left me as mysteriously as it appeared — for no apparent reason.  That year had taught me a lot about suffering — memories I don’t enjoy pulling up even now.

During that very difficult year, that Chinese beggar haunted my illness. For while I searched for reasons as to why I was ill, and why doctor after doctor failed to help me, I had a nagging suspicion that I had been cursed by that Chinese beggar.  His image and our encounter haunted my mind.  As medicine did not work to take away my pain, I wondered if perhaps it was a curse that had damaged me.

Until my illness, curses were not something I had ever considered to be real.  I had not been a superstitious guy and I had not been raised in a culture that even talked about curses. But in my despair, I wondered if indeed I had been cursed.

Years later, after ‘the curse’ has lifted, I look back on my thinking as pure silliness. But back then, amidst my suffering, the possibility of a curse echoed in my mind for months and months.

Memories of this time in my life were recently aroused after I watched two mediocre films based on the theme of a curse: Season of the Witch (with Nicholas Cage) and Steven King’s Bag of Bones. I normally don’t watch horror films, but my son asked to watch Season of the Witch and Bag of Bones was a free NetFlix film that tempted me the next evening when I was too tired to read.   Oddly, these two films both were based on a curse.  This curse theme then reminded me of the angry Chinese beggar that had cursed my life into fragility.

Before my illness I had thought of myself as rather invulnerable (as I mentioned yesterday), but after my slow recovery, I developed a much greater sympathy for those with illness. I realized the obvious truth that all of us sit on the edge of terrible suffering — we are all vulnerable. The Chinese beggar will never know that he left me with a valuable gift which would help me in my relations with others and in my profession.

Questions for readers:

  • Have you ever had haunting thoughts that you now think are silly?
  • What are your experiences with curses.
This is part of  My (shameless) Autobiography  series
(click here for more)

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14 Comments

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14 responses to “Cursed by A Chinese Beggar

  1. It never ceases to amaze me how many lives you’ve lived in a single life.

    I still get a mild sense of anxiety when I start my car outside of the barber shop, because a long time ago that was exactly where my timing belt went and destroyed a car of mine many years ago. Does this count as a “curse”? It is my one token superstitious moment, at least. We should all have at least one of those. It makes life more interesting.

    I love how he “gave” you something positive, though, in your awareness of suffering emergent over the course of that year. That is a great way to look at it.

    But here is a question: Do you still think he cursed you?

  2. Well, Brandon, perhaps one day you took the Barber’s favorite seat at StarBucks and when he saw you outside his shop window, he cursed you. Otherwise, it is merely your linking two unrelated events! :-)

    Remember when you thought that a guy you met really could make coins float. I am afraid you have many more than “one token superstitious moment”! :-)

    As to your good question: If he did curse me, I don’t think it wasn’t the curse that made me sick. As my post said,

    “…I look back on my thinking as pure silliness.”

    But heck, I could be wrong — as you know, I have been wrong lots of times before!

  3. My 10-year-old daughter just read this and said, “But Dad, do you believe in curses?”

    “No, of course not,” I said, “I wrote it like I experienced it so it may sound like I still do, but I don’t.”

    Then we talked more about sickness and how it affects our minds — great talk.

    Many religious folks feel that sickness often give us true insight — I wonder.

  4. practiceofzen

    Sabio –

    As you may know, there are some famous Irish curses, and they were widely believed to be efficacious.

    Here’s one of the milder ones:

    May those who love us love us,
    and those who do not,
    may God turn their hearts.
    And if he cannot turn their hearts
    may He turn their ankles
    so we’ll know them by their limping.

  5. I had a mystery cough one summer, it lasted forever and I tried everything. Cough medicine suppressed it, but it never truly went away. One day it was just gone, much to my relief. Months later it returned almost instantly when a friend of mine burned a particular brand of incense that we had found during the summer, yep, the same incense I had burned all summer. He put it out, threw it away, and the cough never came back.

  6. I know I’ve had, and sometimes still have, haunting and silly thoughts which go against my better judgement. It’s those pesky multiple selves again. Hard to keep them all in a herd, you know. But I’ve never had an epic, year-long episode.

    I haven’t exactly had experience with curses, but there was a time in my walk of faith where I thought God might be trying to send me a message by having unfortunate things happen to me.

  7. I love stories like these. I have a good friend who swears to me that she has seen Voodoo work, once saw a cursed person die.

    Now as for me, when I was a child I once got the idea stuck in my head that somehow I had committed the unpardonable sin. I can still recall many sleepless nights worrying about it. That thought haunted my mind off and on for years.

  8. @ PofZen :
    That is fantastic!!! Loved it.
    Now, have you ever thought about curses or worried of them?

    @ Mike :
    Cursed incense — evil Buddhist spirits! Argghhh!

    @ The Wise Fool :
    God communicating through disaster — sounds like a curse.

    @ Doug B :
    Glad you enjoyed hearing of my suffering! ;-(
    Just kidding.
    The curse of the unpardonable sin – blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. Apparently you, me, Mike, The Wise Fool, Brandon and maybe PofZen all got that curse.

  9. Earnest

    This may not count as a curse, it was more of a mass hysteria event.

    In college I shared a house with two other guys, and it had a central oil furnace with a large grate in the center of the living room that heated the whole house by convection. It made a deep rumbling noise when it turned on. We started making jokes that it was the portal to Hell and it was hellfire that was heating the house.

    I then noticed that I was walking in wider and wider circles around the grate, as I had a bad feeling every time I went near it. Since then I have walked over other grates and have not had the same reaction, even if hot air is coming up through them.

  10. @ Earnest,
    That was funny! Thanx.

  11. That’s a wonderful story, Sab!

    We are such reason-seekers, eh, always searching for (or making up) explanations, causes that create effects.

    I remember one time as a kid having terrifying visions of undersea creatures right before falling asleep. They weren’t dreams, but instead they were just ideas keeping me up and out of sleep. Finally I got up, went to my parents’ room and told them about my visions.

    As soon as the words came out, I felt absolutely ridiculous and just wanted to go back to bed. My parents were kind enough to not bring it up the next day.

  12. @ Andrew G,
    Saying our thoughts out loud can help. When writing a post, I always read it out loud a few times while editing. I can’t belief how silly stuff can sound out loud that sounded fine in my head.

  13. Jessica

    Do you think that the human mind can affect the body so much that you can make yourself become physically ill?

  14. @ Jessica
    Absolutely! I am totally convinced that the human mind can make us sick — in many bizarre physical ways. I think that is why I was probably sick in this story. But it was not the curse. I only thought about the curse far after the fact — after I tried to get well with all those docs, my mind searched for any reason it could come up with.

    Now, if I had thought I was cursed and believed it, then yes, my mind could have made me sick. But in this case, that wasn’t the order of things. I will write a bit more on this later. (insh’allah)

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