I am thankful for bed bugs

Luke Johnson | SIPA, Class of 2018

Upon returning home from a lovely retreat in the woods, a few of us IFEP students noticed new additions to our bodies: itchy glowing purple polka-dots over hands, backs, neck, and legs… For me, personally, I had never seen these before, so, after a few days of nervous uncertainty, I concluded that they were bedbugs. Usually, such a conclusion would go hand in hand with suffering and irritation; yet, for me, the story took a different path.

There is a particularly wise chinese idiom that I would like to base this blog around: 塞翁失马. It is literally “Old Man Loses His Horse”, but its meaning and story goes much deeper.

The story begins — as many do — with an old man. This one loses his horse. When his fellow humble townspeople find out, they come and try to console him

“We are so sorry to hear that you have lost your horse, what bad luck!” They say

“Perhaps it is bad, perhaps not”, he responds.

A few days later, his horse returns and brings a mare back with him. The townspeople come over to congratulate him.

“We are happy to hear that you got your horse back and he brought back another, what good luck!”, they say.

“Perhaps it is good, perhaps not”, he responds

One day, the old man’s son is out riding the wild mare and it bucks, throwing him clear off. The fall breaks his leg. The townsfolk come over to console him:

“We are so sorry to hear that your son has fallen and broken his leg, what bad luck!”, The townsfolk say.

“Perhaps it is bad, perhaps not”, he responds.

Then, war breaks out across China and all able-bodied men are sent to fight, excluding, of course, the old man’s son. In the fighting, many die…

The story concludes with a lesser-known saying: “化不可极深不可测,” which says that change never ends, and its total comprehension is beyond our grasp.

*

What does this have to do with bed-bugs? Well, generally, people would view getting eaten alive as a bad thing. But over the last few weeks, some very good things came out of this.

Few things bring people together better than mutual pain. I have become closer with the other people who also got bitten (as well as the coordinators). Also, in my desperation to find out why my body looked like a character Dr. Seuss dreamt up, I learned about Columbia’s medical services, what my insurance covers, and how to make appointments. Ask me if you have any questions.

But maybe the best thing was that the coordinators were very generous in offering a refund for the trip. To collect that refund, I learned about the Venmo app (which now has $65 in the account, by the way). Some friends of mine joked that they wished they got a few bites to make the trip free.

The price of all this was some itchiness for a few days and unsightly red dots, which begs the question, was it worth it. Funny how time affects your sense of value. A week ago, I would have said absolutely not. In hindsight, the dots will heal, but the knowledge, friends (and yes, app) will still be there. Even with the red dots still present, I can say it was an overall positive experience.

So, bad things happen sometimes, but you cannot really know how it will actually affect you. There is no use lamenting. Go on the retreats and, if you are lucky, you will get some bed-bug bites.

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