The Sword Story
Majid Ali, M.D.
Andrew had been disabled with
chronic fatigue for about a year when he first
I sensed something different
about Andrew within moments of his entering my
office. I finished scanning the chronic fatigue
questionnaire I use in my practice and looked up to
ask him some questions about his health. He stared
at me with sad eyes. As I asked questions regarding
his medical problems, he kept interrupting his
answers to talk about his two daughters who
apparently suffered from many of the symptoms he
described. Finally, I said,
"Your daughters are not here. You
are. Once you get better, we can take care of your
"No, you won't," Andrew blurted.
"Okay, then we won't." His answer
took me by surprise but I recovered quickly. "Let's
talk about you."
"You can't help my daughters,
Doc," Andrew spoke softly this time.
"Fine! Fine! Tell me when did
"You can't help my daughters
because my wife won't let you," he interrupted me.
"Let's just talk about you,
Andrew," I said with some frustration.
"Doc, I wish you could help my
daughters, but you can't because my wife thinks your
work is hocus-pocus." Andrew became sad and then sat
up quickly. "My wife is a successful businesswoman.
And she is a very strong woman. I have been disabled
with this thing and can't do anything for my
daughters. They are sick every month and I see their
pediatrician prescribe antibiotics every month, just
the way my pediatrician did for me. I'm very afraid
I saw Andrew 10 weeks later for a
follow-up visit. There was no sign of any
improvement. I saw my notation, "concerned about two
daughters," in his clinical chart and wondered how
the situation at home might be. I decided not to ask
him any questions about that.
Andrew continued to receive
immunotherapy from our office but did not keep his
appointment for a follow-up visit with me until
several months later. Then he came in one day, his
face lit up with joy. I wondered if the situation
with his daughters had changed but said nothing.
Next, I started to make entries in the chronic
fatigue outcome sheet that I use in my practice for
"Tell me Andrew, how is your
energy level these days?" I asked.
"Excellent!" he beamed.
"Excellent?" I asked in
"Excellent. I am running a
marathon," he crowed.
"Running a marathon?" I was
"Yup! I am running a marathon."
Andrew became serious.
Chronic fatigue patients do not
run marathons — not those who have been disabled for
months. I was not prepared for this. Without being
too obvious, I thumbed through the chart to see if I
had the right chart, to ensure he was the patient I
thought he was, the father of two daughters.
"Concerned about two daughters," I saw my notation
in the chart and knew that there was no mistake
"I'm not sure that's a good idea,
Andrew," I began. "Marathons shouldn't be run by
people who are just coming out of chronic fatigue,"
"I knew that's what you would
say, Doc. But I am not coming out of chronic fatigue
now. I have been out of chronic fatigue. I waited
for three months before I decided to come and tell
you about it. Your story did it. Yup, your story did
it for me." Andrew grinned broadly.
I tell a lot of stories to my
patients to help them understand the nature of this
beast of chronic fatigue, and to help them cope with
their unique brand of suffering. What story was
Andrew talking about? I wondered. I looked up.
Andrew was studying my face with his intense, blue
"Dr, Ali, your sword story did
it. You remember your sword story, Doc. Don't you?"
Andrew flashed a smile.
I often tell my patients the
sword story to make some points about spiritual
search and rewards. It goes something like this:
There was a ferocious captain in
Genghis Khan's army during the invasion of India. He
killed people with his sword at the least
provocation and often without any provocation at
all. His reputation preceded him whereever he went.
On this occasion, after he entered a town, he
thunderously demanded from his lieutenants to know
if there was anyone left alive.
"No one, sir! No one except for
this spiritual man," a lieutenant answered.
"Aha! A spiritual fool!" he
thundered. "Take me to the fool," he ordered.
His lieutenant led him to an
ancient small temple with a broken wooden door. The
captain ordered the door smashed down. Within
moments, his lieutenants smashed it. The captain
entered the tiny courtyard. A thin man in a
loincloth and wooden sandals stood still in the
middle of the courtyard. The captain contemptuously
looked at the spiritual man and roared,
"Do you know who I am?"
"No, I don't," the spiritual man
"You don't know who I am?" the
captain asked, shaking with rage.
"No, I don't," the spiritual man
repeated his words timidly.
The captain pulled his sword from
its sheath and flashed it with his full might. "I
can slice through your body and not blink an eye,"
he thundered again.
Everyone standing behind the
captain froze, their eyes fixed on the spiritual
man. Time seemed to stop. The spiritual man stood
silently, looking back at the captain with vacant
eyes. Then he asked in a whisper, "Do you know who I
"Who are you?" the captain roared
again, thrusting his sword forward until it nearly
touched the spiritual man's abdomen.
"I could have your sword slice
through me and not blink an eye," the spiritual man
The captain trembled in his feet
and walked out without saying a word.
"How did the sword story help
you?" I asked Andrew in good humor.
"Your sword story did it, Doc.
I'm serious," Andrew began with a grin. "A few
months after I saw you last, my wife took a lover
and threw me out. Suddenly, there I was. I had no
wife. No home. No job. And I couldn't see my
daughters. What would I tell my daughters anyway? I
had nothing left. There was no reason for me to go
on. No reason to fight back at all. No reason to
live. There was nothing there. Just darkness. Then
into that darkness came the sword and the man in the
loincloth and wooden sandals. Then I don't quite
know what happened — except that I wasn't afraid
anymore. Nothing mattered anymore. I wasn't afraid.
I think that did it! I wasn't afraid anymore. I
guess I was just like that spiritual man. I thought
I could have anyone slice through me and I wouldn't
blink an eye — just like the man in the loincloth
and wooden sandal. I began to move around and then I
found the energy to start walking and then running.
Before I knew it, I was preparing for the marathon.
This is how it all happened. I was free at last —
free of fear and free of anger. I wasn't a victim
anymore. I knew there was something out there. I
didn't know what, but
was out there, and it
didn't seem to matter that I couldn't know
any better. I wasn't
tired anymore. Honest Doc, that's what happened."
Andrew shook his head warmly. There was nothing for
me to say.
The story came back to me some
weeks after I saw Andrew. In a flash, I saw him the
way he looked during the first visit — distraught,
deeply hurt, interrupting his answers about his
health to talk about his daughters. Then I saw
clearly what I had failed to see then: He was going
through a profound change then — a spiritual change,
through his suffering for his daughters. He didn't
see it then, nor did I. Now I know it was not the
sword story that did it. It was his love for his
daughters that did it. He suffered for his
daughters, and, through that suffering, he came to
the truth — that there is something,
beyond our bodily senses and beyond all reach of the
intellect that can sustain us when nothing else
does. He went to that third dimension — the
spiritual — that none of us is destined to know, and
returned with a change, a transformation that
neither he nor I could have known with our bodily
senses nor with our clever-thinking. The spiritual
man in the loincloth and wooden sandals in the sword
story was just a little spark that he saw during his
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