At times I randomly pull out a card from a deck of Self-Care Cards. Today I got Courage. It has the heads of a lion, a lioness and a warrior woman with a weapon in her hand. It instructs
Take the leap. Your courage will see you through.
The leap to do what, I asked myself. To write this at a time when humankind is in the jaws of fear, when all around us is sickness, death, helplessness and hopelessness. So what do I say? What weight will my words hold? They’ll appear so empty, so hollow when a majority of us feels numb; when many are trying to grapple with and find meaning in unnecessary deaths of family and friends.
I decided the best person to turn to is Victor Frankl. The man who lived through the Nazi network of concentration and extermination camps; who like Nelson Mandela, came out a man with greater compassion and with the message of hope that if a man decides to he will very likely survive at any cost.
And he gifted us the all time great book, 'Man’s Search for Meaning'. His main concern was to understand why anyone at all survived the horrors of the holocaust when most had largely succumbed.
He frequently quotes Nietzsche — “He who has a Why to live for can bear almost any How”. He sadly observes that the prisoners who were the first to die in these camps were those who gave up on life and had lost all hope for a future. Those who found or saw no meaning in their lives.
In his preface, Harold S. Kushner says “Finally, Frankl’s most enduring insight, one that I have called on often in my own life and in countless counselling situations: forces beyond your control can take away everything you possess except one thing, your freedom to choose how you will respond to the situation. You cannot control what happens to you in life, but you can always control what you will feel and do about what happens to you.” This means, so long as we retain our freedom to choose our response we are not left with nothing.
Frankl says that most people died from lack of hope, lack of something to live for, a quest for meaning. According to him there are three possible sources for meaning.
1. In Work – doing something significant. At one point he dreamt that after the war he would lecture about the psychological lessons to be learned from the Auschwitz experience.
2. In Love – caring for another person. Frankl held on to the image of his wife in the darkest days in Auschwitz, dreaming and hoping to meet her after the nightmare was over.
3. In Courage – in the most difficult times by choosing how to respond to the suffering.
All these gave meaning to his life. We are fighting a different kind of war but equally terrible. Can we find meaning and purpose to our lives and muster the courage together with others to see us through this? None of us know the future but we can keep the flame of hope and faith burning for us and for those who need us.