There is an anecdote about the Taiwanese writer Sanmao 三毛. It is said that at the age of 27, Sanmao went to see a fortune teller to ask him about her life.
How many books would I write? she asked him.
27, he said.
When Sanmao heard this, she felt a sense of despair. Her life, which had been quite colorful but also tragic hitherto, had begun feeling bland. If everything was predictable and unchangeable, she thought, what would be there to live for?
So after having finished writing all 27 books, Sanmao committed suicide.
Although in 1991, Sanmao was found dead, having hung herself in one of the bathrooms of Rongmin General Hospital in Taiwan, this version of why she committed suicide is most likely untrue.
Many people who have followed Sanmao’s life might have quite accurately speculated that the reason for her suicide was a broken heart.
Just 12 years before, she had kissed goodbye the dead body of her beloved Spanish husband Josè after he drowned in a diving accident.
‘When I saw his body, I said, it’s not him. It’s not Josè. But later, when I let myself believe that it was, I held his hand like we always did in our daily lives.’ – Sanmao
How could she have gotten over that? some wondered. She must have killed herself whilst still mourning over her loss of him.
Was this true?
Some others pointed the cause of her suicide to her loss of the Taiwan Golden Horse Award for her screenplay Red Dust. Having stemmed her self worth throughout most of her life on her writing, they said, she must have taken her own life after having felt despondent about losing to other screenplays that were nominated.
Was this true?
Sanmao, who chose her English name Echo, after the magical wood nymph who was punished by Hera the Goddess for gossiping so that even though she had a voice, she could not speak her mind, only repeat what was said to her, in contrary, did have a voice and spoke of traveling in the Sahara in a time when most Chinese women could not even escape the confines of an arranged marriage.
How sad that her literary career was cut short at the age of 48.
Regardless of the real reason for the suicide, it’s undeniable that Sanmao has left behind many beautiful compositions for generations to enjoy, of which Olive Tree 橄榄树 must be on top:
为什么流浪 流浪远方 流浪
为了宽阔的草原 流浪远方 流浪
还有 还有 为了梦中的橄榄树 橄榄树
为什么流浪 流浪远方 流浪
But, let’s come back to the question:
what would you do if a fortune teller predicted your entire life?
Every gain, every loss. Every excitement, every disappointment.
Would you lose hope in losing the spontaneity in life? Would you begin to live as though life had taken too much away from you? Or would you live life in much more vibrant colors?
Some people say: I don’t want to know.
Me too. On first thought, I really would not want to know everything about my life. It would make my life very boring, won’t it?
But then, when I thought about it some more, I realised that it’s possible to take a second approach.
So let’s say you know everything that will happen in your life, would that not give you an opportunity to be a better performer in your life’s orchestra?
Rather than ever worrying about what happens, you already know. So you can relax, and enjoy.
Like acting in a screenplay you’ve acted in before, you can play your role better this time around.