There is a Chinese aphorism that was published as part of a collection in 1627:
Far better to be a dog in days of peace
Than to be a human in times of war.
In the mid-1930s, a discussion between British diplomats about Chinese aphorisms ended up playing telephone with that aphorism. It seems to have led to the first mention of a "Chinese curse" stating, "May you live in interesting times."
In 1966 Robert F. Kennedy delivered a speech that included an instance:
There is a Chinese curse which says "May he live in interesting times." Like it or not, we live in interesting times. They are times of danger and uncertainty; but they are also the most creative of any time in the history of mankind.
We live in interesting times. There are many challenges and opportunities in our world. Most of us have some significant degree of anxiety every time we watch, listen, or read the news. We don’t expect things to be stable and calm. Instead, we’re expecting the next shoe to drop and we feel like we’ve gone through a shoe store of them falling. The boxes are stacked pretty high on all sides too.
Yet, the times before these were "interesting" as well, often much more "interesting," and much more problematically "interesting." We live in an age wherein Jew hatred isn’t the norm, certainly not the rabid violent type. We don’t worry about plagues, the kind that wipe out large portions of communities, ravaging ours. While many may fear an outbreak of some sort of violence against Israel, we’re not worried about Israel being invaded, much less wiped out, and if anyone attacks it, we know that Israel is more than capable of responding.
We live in times when we are concerned about the impact of governmental policies on our well-being and that of vulnerable populations, but I’m not sure during what period of time in recent US history, decades, not years, that we would not have been similarly, if not substantially more, concerned.
Living in "interesting times," times of change, times of some anxiety, is not really a curse. It’s life. That is what life is, constant change filled with some anxiety, and hopefully not an insignificant amount of happiness and joy to go along with them.
Because life is "interesting," Jews have always found solace and comfort in coming together to be with other people similarly affected by life and to take part in Jewish communal worship, especially Shabbat services, which help us to focus on what is most important and to put all of the rest into context, allowing us to stop struggling in the quicksand of a world that doesn’t remain still and to find stable ground beneath our feet.
If you don’t already come regularly, in which case you already have experienced this, come and join us for a Shabbat service sometime. Your mind, your heart, and your spirit will be glad you did.
Rabbi David Kaufman