Burdock Root

Food for Thought

Burdock root is hard to find in the US, so when I saw it at the green market in Union Square Park, I had to get some. It’s a common ingredient in Japan. Because it’s bitter, the recipes usually call for a lot of sugar. It tastes great with white rice.

My mom once told me a story about burdock root. I’m not sure how much of it is true, but it goes something like this.

During World War II, this Japanese lady felt sorry for the starving American soldiers in a prison camp. So, she secretly donated burdock root through the camp barrier, although the food shortage was severe even for the Japanese at the time. After Japan surrendered, this lady was punished for feeding the soldiers burdock root; that is, it was interpreted as a cruel joke.

The story made an impression on me because I’ve always been terrified of misunderstandings of this nature.

Fear, like fear of snakes, comes and goes. As long as the snake is no longer there in front of you, you wouldn’t suffer from fear. In contrast, there is no way to escape anxiety, especially social anxiety, completely. Nagging questions can torment you for hours or even days after the event that triggered the anxiety. “Did I say something to offend her?” “Was I wrong to say that?” “What did he hear about me?”

If you cannot come up with reasonable answers (in most cases, you can’t), you consult your friends. You try to get them to side with you, affirm that you did nothing wrong.

In my experience, talking provides only temporary relief. It’s just rationalization; in reality, you’d never know the truth. I find that not talking about my anxiety works better. If the problem is solvable, or the question is answerable, consulting others is helpful, but otherwise, simply staring at the anxious feeling without words has better outcomes. After all, rationalization is a lie or distortion. One lie leads to another, and eventually, anxiety transforms into something much more complex. Untangling yourself from it becomes more challenging.

I imagine the Japanese lady shedding some tears upon learning about the misunderstanding but moving on with her life saying, “Hey, what can I do?” Life is bitter-sweet like burdock root.