If we’ve been diagnosed with an illness, or even if we just have the illness of “life,” perhaps if we can come to a new understanding of the meaning of “cure.” And, in looking at the meaning of the word and concept “cure,” perhaps we can learn some essential truths about our self, and then actually maximize the odds of our being “cured” of whatever afflictions we suffer from.
The word cure comes from the Latin word, cura, meaning care and concern. But it also means trouble, anxiety and sorrow. The etymology of the word suggests that cure is an active process of bringing care and concern to the trouble, anxiety, even sorrow that is the constant companion of illness. Sorrow — for the loss of health, loss of a future as one envisioned it, for many losses that are individualistic to each person — is essential to cure.
But the root cura also gives rise to another word: curiosus, from which we get our word, curiosity. We must be curious about our illness. Not just frightened and worried, but curious too.
A two-month-old baby is driven by constant curiosity. He will roll his eyes to see whatever comes into his field of vision. Two months later, the baby, still being driven by curiosity, will crane his neck in every possible direction to see whatever is possible to see. And two months after that, the baby will crawl in every possible direction to do the same, still giving expression to his unrelenting curiosity. Then, the baby rises up on his legs, and is able to extend the region of his exploration. At each developmental step, the baby’s curiosity brings new abilities, more complete processing skills of all that surrounds him, and a growing imagination.
An eight-year-old boy will precariously place himself on a narrow board with wheels, and thrust himself into a pivot to make his whole body and the contraption soar through the air together, as though they were one. We parents hold our breath waiting to see if he will figure out how to ride a skateboard successfully, and not break various bones in the process. He will do this because he has seen others doing it, and he is curious. He wants to know the sensation of flying through space.
A teenage girl, under the vigilant eye of her mother, leaves the house looking perfectly conservatively dressed, wearing church-like attire. A block away from home, she will hike up her skirt above her knees, and sail her way into a party where every other girl, similarly, has a skirt as high as the flooded Mississippi, with lipstick and eye shadow to boot. Our girl, however, eschews the make-up, choosing only the path of adventure that can be easily put back in place before she walks back into her mother’s house. She does this in part, to feel a sense of belonging with her friends. Maybe there is, too, a hint of rebelliousness. But underlying both is a curiosity. What is it like to be one of the girls? What is it like to defy my mother’s orders?
Curiosity is a natural state. And to the extent that we retain a curious attitude in life, it assists us in managing obstacles, difficulties, and even illness. To the extent that we are curious, we stretch ourselves; we expand who we are into something larger and broader. We exercise our imagination, bringing the whole gamut of our body/brain abilities into the effort. Curiosity represents us at the pinnacle of what it means to be human: a thoughtful, creative, imaginative, resourceful being.
The best way of being curious and to rediscover some essential truths about oneself is a method of inquiry that asks WHY of all things. When we found ourselves confronting what seems like an impossible path, or a difficult decision, or a paralyzing feeling, or a diagnosis of a terrible disease, we need to be asking ourselves these questions:
Why am I having this dilemma? What is the root cause?
Was there a precipitating event — either internal or external?
What do I want the destination of my issue to be? Where do I want its resolution to land me?
Might the reason for my conflict, or even the state of my body, have to do with my emotions, my feelings, my thoughts, my unexpressed, unacknowledged, unactivated self?
Especially when we are diagnosed with a disease, it is difficult to understand that maintaining an attitude of curiosity is useful. But when we can acknowledge that in asking “Why?” with curiosity, we can come to a profound understanding of the meaning of our disease/condition/dilemma. We might honor the very honest and profound assessment of this one man’s intelligence:
“I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious.”