When I received “Man’s Search for Meaning” (a book by Viktor E. Frankl) I immediately dove in – my dear friend, Zahara, had gifted me with a copy and informed me she would be reading it along with me.
Well, I should know better. My sensitivities to the horrors of Auschwitz always feels like I had been there in a past life, and just reading about it – I seem to re-live the events all over again.
For the first 40 pages, I thought, I am NOT going to get through this, this unimaginable, unthinkable, suffering.
I hoped that the eventual fruit of this torturous reading would be worth the trauma.
And no better moment to receive this wisdom – stuck in my own psycho drama … questioning life’s meaning … ready to throw in the towel and give up treatment … feeling loss of purpose … a mere Guinea pig for the cancer cartel. Thoughts like, I can’t go on like this anymore …. blah, blah, blah.
And what does life place in my lap? This gift from a man born in Vienna 1905, his meaningful message. His wisdom reaffirms the treasure my soul is quietly holding for me, patiently awaiting my recognition.
Below, an especially lovely excerpt that filled my heart with meaning:
“Let me recall that which was perhaps the deepest experience I had in the concentration camp. The odds of surviving the camp were no more than one in twenty eight, as can easily be verified by exact statistics. It did not even seem possible, let alone probable, that the manuscript of my first book, which I had hidden in my coat when I arrived at Auschwitz, would ever be rescued. Thus, I had to undergo and to overcome the loss of my mental child. And now it seemed as if nothing and no one would survive me; neither a physical nor a mental child of my own! So I found myself confronted with the question whether under such circumstances my life was ultimately void of any meaning.
Not yet did I notice that an answer to the question with which I was wrestling so passionately was already in store for me, and that soon thereafter this answer would be given to me. This was the case when I had to surrender my clothes and in turn inherited the worn-out rags of an inmate who had already been sent to the gas chamber immediately after his arrival at the Auschwitz railway station. Instead of the many pages of my manuscript, I found in a pocket of the newly acquired coat a single page torn out of a Hebrew prayer book, containing the most important Jewish prayer, Shema Yisrael. How should I have interpreted such a “coincidence” other than as a challenge to live my thoughts instead of merely putting them on paper?
A bit later, I remember, it seemed to me that I would die in the near future. In this critical situation, however, my concern was different from that of most of my comrades. Their question was, “Will we survive the camp? For, if not, all this suffering has no meaning.” The question which beset me was, “Has all this suffering, this dying around us, a meaning? For, if not, then ultimately there is no meaning to survival; for a life whose meaning depends upon such a happenstance-as whether one escapes or not-ultimately would not be worth living at all.”
Man’s Search For Meaning, Viktor E. Frankl