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.
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