While cleaning out recently, I rediscovered Viktor Frankl’s book, Man’s Search for Meaning. Although I have rarely reread books, I decided this one should be. I wasn’t exactly sure what message I needed to find in rereading this book, but I have learned to follow the path, and see where it leads.
Hopefully, you are familiar with Frankl’s story. He was a long-time prisoner in horrific concentration camps, whose father, mother, brother, and wife, all of his family but his sister, perished in the camps. He consistently suffered from hunger, cold, and brutality, yet he found life worth preserving, not choosing suicide as many others did.
I am in awe of Frankl’s ability to find meaning in such dire circumstances in the concentration camps. Frankl was able to find moments of comfort through images of loved ones, by religion, and even by the comfort of nature, such as trees or sunsets. But those alone were not sufficient for Frankl to find meaning in his suffering. Frankl found that he was able to survive in spite of extreme indignities by finding meaning in his suffering, often quoting Nietzsche, “He who has a why to live can bear with almost any how.” Frankl believed in existentialism, the central theme of which is: “To live is to suffer, to survive is to find meaning in the suffering. If there is a purpose in life at all, there must be a purpose in suffering and dying.” Each person must find that purpose for himself, and must accept the responsibility to live his/her life consistent with that purpose.
If Frankl, in spite of, or maybe because of, his extreme and brutal treatment and suffering was able to find meaning in those experiences, why not us? As bad as we think we have it or had it, our experiences cannot begin to compare.
Most of us will never have problems the magnitude of Frankl’s, yet at times we do have problems that shake us at the core. How do we find meaning in our circumstances? How do we find the purpose in our suffering and live our lives consistent with that purpose?
I am not sure that I know. But I am sure Frankl’s message is timely for me at this point in my life. I will follow the path and see where it leads.