Once upon a time, a young woman named Yun Ok was at her wit’s end.
Some time ago, she was happily married to her loving husband. But after he returned from years as a soldier at war—he was a different man.
He was cross, angry, and unpredictable.
Yun Ok just wanted her loving husband back. Only in fleeting moments would she catch glimpses of the man he used to be—but that gave her hope. She knew he was in there somewhere, and she wanted a cure that would bring him back.
So Yun Ok journeyed to find a mysterious hermit’s hut having heard rumors he could create such a cure. After she explained her story, the hermit smiled and told her he had just the recipe she was seeking.
“There is a potion that will restore your husband but it requires an unusual ingredient,” he told her. “You must bring me a whisker from a live tiger.”
Yun Ok gasped in disbelief. “What? Such a thing is impossible!”
But the hermit insisted that he could not make this potion with that important ingredient, and then turned her out, leaving Yun Ok to stew over the decision.
She tossed and turned all night, trying to think of a way to obtain a whisker.
By morning, she had made up her mind: She would do her best to get a whisker from a live tiger.
She left the house with a bowl of meat sauce, and carried it up a mountain to a cave where a tiger was known to live. Then she set the bowl down outside and backed away.
The next morning, Yun Ok arrived before dawn and saw that the bowl was licked clean. She replaced it with a new bowl of meat sauce.
The day after that was the same, and so was the next, and the next. For a few months, Yun Ok kept this up, and though she never saw the tiger in person, the bowl was always licked clean, and there were tiger footprints left around the bowl.
About two to three months in, Yun Ok decided she was going to look inside the cave. That morning, she met the eyes of the tiger deep inside the cave as she took away the old bowl and set down a fresh one.
Her heart was just pounding.
Then she did it again the next day, and the next. Every day, the tiger would wait patiently nearby and watch as she left him fresh food.
After another two months or so, Yun Ok was starting to rethink her opinion of the beast she once feared.
“Actually, it is rather a friendly creature when you get to know it,” she thought.
About a week later, the tiger even got close enough to let her pet it. Yun Ok knew that it was time.
The next day, she brought a knife with her. And then as the tiger started to eat, she cut off one of its whiskers.
“Oh dear tiger, may I please have just one of your whiskers?” she asked. She pocketed the treasured ingredient, thanked the tiger, and then ran straight to the hermit’s hut.
“I have it! I have the tiger’s whisker!” she exclaimed as she barged in.
The hermit remembered her. “You don’t say? From a live tiger?”
“Yes!” she replied.
“Tell me, how did you do it?” the hermit asked. Yun Ok then recounted the many months, nearly half a year, that she had spent gaining the tiger’s trust.
Satisfied with the story, the hermit plucked the whisker from her fingers—and promptly threw it into the roaring fireplace, and it burned to ash.
Yun Ok was furious and shocked, and asked what he had just done.
“Yun Ok, you no longer need the whisker,” he said softly. “Tell me, is a man more vicious than a tiger? If a dangerous wild beast will respond to your patient care, do you think a man will respond any less willingly?”
She turned around a left, thinking about what the hermit had just said.
Her husband had been grieving and dealing with trauma, and compassion and patience would have been the key to helping him heal. There is no magic cure for this. She knew what she had to do now.