For those of us who have a decade or two on thirty something, we can trace first-hand the problems that have beset the Kennedy family over a number of decades. When John Kennedy, Jr. died off the coast of Massachusetts, the media and the masses all quietly wondered again about the Kennedy curse. What has caused that foreboding cloud that lingers over the remaining members of the troubled Kennedy family? In addition, with such a large family, we will ask that question again if tragedy revisits them. However, this seeming family curse isn't limited to America. Even distant and diminutive Nepal suffers from a similar affliction. In the aftermath of the royal rampage and resultant bloodletting in the palace in Kathmandu, the curse conspiracies arise even there at the rooftop of the world.
The royals, that were all but wiped out recently, trace their linage back to a time before our American Revolution. King Prithivi Narayan Shah founded Nepal's royal family in 1768 by uniting a number of rival groups in that small Himalayan country. As legend has it, he was traveling to Kathmandu when he came upon the Hindu god, Gorakh Nath. The god was disguised as an old sage and beggar. The king offered him some curds as a meal. The legend states that the sage ate the curds and promptly regurgitated it back into the cup and then offered the mess to the king. In disgust, the king threw the regurgitated offering on the ground. In the process, the curds accidentally covered both feet of the king. The sage, seeing the king's toes covered with curds, announced that a curse would be played out with the king's next ten successors-one for each of the king's toes. The sage told the founding king that for his lack of gratitude, the end of that dynasty would occur during the reign of that tenth king after him. Sometimes, truth is stranger than fiction; the killings in Kathmandu were of the tenth royal family since the issuance of that curse.
Was the massacre in Nepal just a coincidence or was this predestined to happen? This semester, I am teaching a philosophy class for the University of St. Francis. One discussion which was long and heated was about determinism vs. free will. The students were equally divided on this topic. Some saw themselves completely free to choose whatever course they wanted in life. Others saw life as largely preset. Still others played it safe and picked a place somewhere in the middle. Since philosophy is one of those courses where it is difficult to prove a position, the class carried on with their hypotheses for some time. I wrapped up the discussion by using a version of Blaise Pascal's "divine wager." I don't know whether or not, or to what degree, we are free or determined. However, I would live my life assuming that I have free will. If I fear that I am determined or cursed to live out some foreordained life, I will give in to setbacks by saying that this is just the way it is. I offered them this approach, because I feel that this is the most productive way to handle this question in particular and life in general. I don't know whether the Nepalese royal family or the Kennedys were really cursed or not, but if they feel that they were, it will set into motion a chain of events that will in effect predetermine their lives. Henry Ford said, "You can believe you can or you can believe you can't, either way you will be correct." If we do have real choices in life, it is critical that we believe it. If we don't, we will act as if we are determined even though we may have freedom.
Therefore, live boldly. Whether or not life seems like it is determined, live with as much adventure and choices as you can cram into your time here on earth. In a couple of weeks, I'll be on my lifetime adventure traveling to distant countries and experiencing faraway cultures. Perhaps our lives aren't completely scripted by some external force. Regardless, I choose to live my life assuming choice over curse and chance over certainty.
This article appeared in the Dixon Telegraph on 6/18/01.