Time by Pardesi*
While reading Viktor E. Frankl’s “Man’s Search for Meaning,” I was impressed by his insight into the mental suffering of human beings. After having himself suffered through some of the most torturous conditions known to mankind, he not only survived, but shared his newfound knowledge with the rest of the world. His greatest legacy is his impressive understanding of human nature and the valuable lessons he passed on.
While people often recommend this book, they rarely put into words what it is that so impressed them. I’d like to share some of what gave me those “Aha!” moments, where the light bulb went off in my head and I recognized the value of the lesson. One particular passage was related to the transitory nature of life and how his therapy “logotherapy,” is an active technique, rather than reactive. What struck me however, was how he points out a fundamentally sound view of old age that I believe is one we would all wish to emulate:
“To express this point figuratively we might say: The pessimist resembles a man who observes with fear and sadness that his wall calendar, from which he daily tears a sheet, grows thinner with each passing day. On the other hand, the person who attacks the problems of life actively is the like a man who removes each successive leaf from his calendar and files it neatly and carefully away with its predecessors, after having first jotted down a few diary notes on the back.
He can reflect with pride and joy on all the richness set down I these notes, on all the life he has already lived to the fullest. What will it matter to him if he notices that he is growing old? Has he any reason to envy the young people whom he sees, or wax nostalgic over his own lost youth? What reasons has he to envy a young person? For the possibilities that young person has, the future which is in store for him? “No, thank you,” he will think. “Instead of possibilities I have realities in my past, not only the reality of work done and of love loved, but of suffering bravely suffered. These sufferings are even the things of which I am most proud, though these are things which cannot inspire envy.”
What a joyous and wonderful way to live! To live fully each day, so that you can end your days without regret, envy or loss. In his book, he repeatedly speaks of finding the meaning of life and meaning in suffering. The two are irrevocably intertwined. Suffering occurs in every human life. The ability to transform tragedy into a personal triumph is as unique to each person as it is necessary. Here is a great example from his book:
“Once, an elderly general practitioner consulted me because of severe depression. He could not overcome the loss of his wife who had died two years before and whom he had loved above all else. Now, how could I help him? What should I tell him? Well, I refrained from telling him anything but instead confronted him with the question, “What would have happened, Doctor, if you had died first, and your wife would have had to survive you?”
“Oh,” he said, “for her this would have been terrible; how she would have suffered!” Whereupon I replied, “You see, Doctor, such a suffering has been spared her, and it was you who have spared her this suffering – to be sure, at the price that now you have to mourn her.” He said no word but shook my hand and calmly left my office. In some way, suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning, such as the meaning of sacrifice.”
Of course, Frankl himself found such meaning with memories of his wife’s love while enduring the torments of the Nazi camps in hopes of eventually reuniting with her. Since we cannot always avoid suffering in life, the idea of finding a meaning in it is immensely sound. Although I thoroughly support and believe in happiness and an optimistic view, I find great healing in the idea that if we suffer, we suffer for a reason.
I’ve know friends and family members who suffer in harsh, chaotic home situations, or work jobs they dislike. Far from wanting unhappiness, many of them simply suffer these problems for a greater good, or a greater meaning. They may be trying to pay for their children’s college funds, or they are working to heal an addicted person in their family.
Finding the meaning in our suffering helps us endure our pain with dignity and grace. It is the gives us endurance far beyond our usual capacity and fills us with hope and love. It is an inner freedom that not even the worst circumstances can remove from us. May we all be blessed to know the meaning that gives purpose to our lives.