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Finding Self-worth and Purpose Through Pain: How Hermann Hesse’s Works Helped Me Transform Suffering

I often think about the meaning of my pain

  Hesse and I met because of an illness. “The Spa Guest” was the first book I came across by him. At that time, I had a tumor in my body and I was almost unable to move. At that time, I was reading this collection of his essays and was infected by his humor. Sometimes I laughed so much that I forgot the pain.
  In 1990, I had five tumors growing on my central nervous system. The pain was unbearable for most people. At that time, the doctor told me: “After the operation, you will not be able to walk.” I said, “Even if you can’t walk, I will accept it. After the operation, I will not have pain.” The doctor did not tell me at the time that after the operation, It will hurt more. They cut 5 of my central nerves, and there were 10 fresh wounds on the nerves. I lay in bed crying in pain, taking painkillers to no avail, and cried every day.
  At first I couldn’t sit up. Slowly, the nerves grew. One year, two years… I could sit up, and later, I could sit in a wheelchair. It still hurts, but not as severe.
  What has Hesse helped me the most? He wrote at the end of the book “Spa Recuperator”: “I still have sciatica, and I will still need to recuperate in the future, but now I own the sciatic nerve, not the sciatic nerve.” This sentence gave me Great inspiration: I am not afraid of this disease, this disease exists in me, I possess it, rather than it eroding me.
  I often wonder, what is the meaning of my pain? Although I can’t walk, I can sit in a wheelchair and have students push me and lift me to the podium. So I often forget that I am a person who cannot walk. This pain is here, I face it, accept it, and I want to make this pain meaningful. I can’t let it hurt in vain. I can still talk, I can still go to class, I can still do something, maybe I can help others. If someone is dealing with illness and pain, my pain may help them feel less afraid and less miserable.
I know what kind of person I am

  Hesse determined to become a poet since he was a child. “If you want to be a poet, you will be nothing.” He ran away from school because he hated scholastic education and was sent to a mental hospital. He struggled to escape from the psychiatric hospital entirely on his own without anyone to help him. His parents paid little attention to him because doctors said the child was mentally ill.
  In 1892, when Hesse had just turned 15, he wrote two letters to his parents. He said in the letter: “I want to be a person, like Schiller said, a person with personality and personality. You are very devout Christians, but I am a person.” He was still a child at the time and would Say something like this. He has been convinced since childhood that individuals are very important, that everyone is unique, and that everyone should develop according to their own talents, hobbies and nature.
  After being released from the mental hospital, it wasn’t long before he dropped out of school. He worked as an apprentice in a watch factory and a bookstore, and later became a bookstore clerk. This suited him perfectly and he spent his free time reading voraciously. After arriving in Tübingen, he began to live independently. Although he was very busy, he began to write. In 1899, Hesse published his first collection of poems, “Romantic Songs.” He wanted to give his father a collection of poems as a birthday present, so he sent a copy home. As a result, his mother wrote to him: “We can see your talent from your collection of poems, but we cannot see your views on ethics, your views on pious beliefs, or your pious heart.” Hesse is now an adult, and his parents still talk to him this way. He told his older and younger sisters that the letter his mother wrote to him after publishing his first collection of poems was the greatest shame in his life.
  When I was young, I was like Hesse, I knew what I wanted. My parents actually don’t want me as their second daughter. I was going to be aborted, but in the end I wasn’t. Later, they had a third daughter. My younger sister and elder sister are both very beautiful and know how to talk sweetly, so they are very loved. They particularly dislike my second daughter. Because I am very stupid, unpleasant, and not good-looking.
  After the Anti-Japanese War ended, my father went to Taiwan, followed by my sister and mother. After they settled down, they picked us all up. Grandpa, grandma, aunt, second aunt, and my sister and I, there were six more people in the house, and things started to get chaotic. My dad is a journalist and often needs to write. The house was so chaotic that he sometimes stayed away from home and stayed at the newspaper office. After get off work, he often went to a restaurant to drink with his colleagues, and later he fell in love with a restaurant girl. My mother was very strong at that time and did not allow my father to come home. So the two of them agreed to divorce, and my father left home.
  I come from such a family. I was an unloved child since I was a child. I have low self-esteem.
  By the time I got to elementary school, my teacher was just too fond of me. The teacher said to me: “Your name is Xie Yingying. There is a children’s writer named Bing Xin. Her name is Xie Wanying. When you grow up, you can be like her.” The whole class was also very kind to me. When they choose the monitor, they choose me. My inferiority complex was swept away.
  I feel like I am a very bad person at home, and I can’t do anything right. But when I’m outside, whatever I do is good. Since then, I have known what kind of person I am and what I want to do in the future.
return home

  I got acquainted with Teacher Chen (Chen Jia Nai) because of preparations for a party. We were all recommended to National Taiwan University from Taichung. At that time, he wanted to organize a gathering for fellow Taichung residents and came to the girls’ dormitory to invite the girls to attend. The girls just pushed me out. As soon as I went out, I saw the thin and thin Teacher Chen sitting there. He is a very quiet boy. Then we started chatting about how to organize the party. This is our first meeting.
  Later, during the Chinese New Year, he wrote a small New Year’s greeting card with a pattern of two birds perched on a branch, and a poem: “Smiling affectionately and asking the two-bird, how long will it take for the kiss to stop.” On the back of the card he wrote: “This card was originally intended for someone else, but after I saw the poem on it, I had to give it to you.” This was his love letter. That’s just the way he is, and he’s going to say things like that. He won’t say “I love you so much”, but he will say words that make you tempted.
  At that time, most graduates of National Taiwan University would go to the United States. Teacher Chen did not want to go to the United States with his classmates. He felt that Germany was the hometown of poets and philosophers, and wanted to go to Germany. So we learned German together and went to Germany. After arriving in Germany, he began to study mathematics and engineering.
  When he was in Germany, Teacher Chen read the German versions of “Das Kapital” and “Anti-Dühring” with his classmates every summer vacation. After reading them, he decided to return to China. In 1976, we received a notice from the Chinese Embassy in West Germany that we could return to our country to settle down.
  When we set off to return to China, Teacher Chen didn’t let me take anything with me. As a result, we came back with two small boxes. Entering the room, it was empty, nothing, and very cold. We didn’t bring enough clothes, and we didn’t have tables or chairs. At that time, these had to be purchased with tickets. Fortunately, the Friendship Store allows customers to use foreign exchange, so I used the only money I had to buy needed things for my family. We became very poor. We settled down slowly like this.
Listen to your heart’s call

  Hesse lived in an era full of lies. In such painful circumstances, he was still able to pursue himself and persist in himself. Writing is his lifeline. In 1914, he published an article opposing war and militarism, for which he was despised and called a “traitor.” Publishers refused to publish his books, and even many of his friends broke with him.
  He said: “I am different from Marx – I am oriented towards individuals, while Marx is oriented towards the masses; Marx wanted to change the world, and I want to change individuals.” All his writing is to awaken young people’s understanding of themselves and obey The inner calling to find your true self.
  When translating Hesse’s works, I felt that most of his works were about spiritual crisis and the confusion of young people, but I didn’t seem to have had a moment of confusion myself. I couldn’t walk until I was 50. Before that, I was either studying or teaching. Books are my friends. I have a beautiful relationship, a good family life, and a job that I like very much. What else is there to be confused about?
  After Teacher Chen left (Chen Jia Nai passed away in 2019), I was in a bad mood and my health was not good for a while. I think it’s time to do something. My favorite is Hesse, so I took out Hesse’s poetry collection again. If I read a poem that I really like, I would translate it. I don’t do it for publication, but for pleasure and comfort.
  At that time, Teacher Chen and I held the Zizhu Poetry Club for the same reason. The two of us usually read together and read poetry together. Teacher Chen said, it would be better to hold a poetry meeting. I took my graduate students to Zizhuyuan and found a place to read poetry together. At the beginning, there were only a few people in the Poetry Club, and it is now in its 17th year. Every Dragon Boat Festival, I take the students to Zizhuyuan.
  I can’t write poems, but I have only written one:
  I was weak and accepted you, who was helpless.
  Now you and I are together in the morning and dusk,
  just like old friends kissing each other.
  We look at each other.
  In the clarity of our hearts,
  although you are stubborn,
  you have no chance of being desolate.
  –“Who are you? my friend! “About My Pain”
  Teacher Chen said: “The poetry meeting is to give everyone some courage to face life. No matter what we encounter in the future, poetry will accompany us.”

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