1. “For the meaning of life differs from man to man,
from day to day and from hour to hour.
What matters, therefore, is not the meaning of life in general
but rather the specific meaning of a person’s life at a given moment.”
— Viktor E. Frankl (Man’s Search For Meaning)
As mentioned earlier I endured nearly eleven years of being pracitcally illiterate during my adolescent and young adult years. Obviously I missed out on a lot. During my ravenous quest to catch up — and become literate in every sense of the word, including culturally and intellectually — I came across Viktor Frankl’s classic of Existentialism: “Man’s Search for Meaning.”
Someone told me it was important. They were right.
No synopsis can do it justice, although many have tried. With many millions of copies sold since its first publication in 1946, you can and should read it yourself, if you haven’t already. In fact, it’s time for me to read it again.
Frankl completed the manuscript of nearly 200 pages in only nine days. He was an Austrian Psychiatrist who had only weeks before been liberated after enduring three years of “housing” in Jewish ghettos and four concentration camps — including Auschwitz and Dachau.
It is short, but dense and challenging in several dimensions: emotional, thought provoking, revealing of human nature. Recollection: It is translated from the German, so sometimes reads a bit stilted and awkward.
If we learn nothing else from Frankl’s deeply reflective work: A) We have it so good we don’t even know how good we have it; and B) Our life has meaning … if we decide that it does; in some cases, making that decision is a prerequisite for life itself.
Those dark 11 years: One of the things I evidently missed out on was a meaning to life.
Indeed, I — in the late autumn of life — now feel a bit lost for “meaning.” Meaning varies not just “from day to day and hour to hour” as Frankl said; it varies with the seasons of life. Now at the end of a “successful” career — and as a more-or-less empty nester — I find myself musing on this very topic. Frankl reminds me — reminds ALL OF US — that this is up to each one of us, to decide for ourselves.
I have a friend who has ALS. Holy moley. That’s an existential crisis if there ever was one. Compared to Frankl and my friend … heck, compared to almost all of humanity who has ever lived … I have no problems. Like Frankl, my friend has embraced a marvelous attitude about his situation. He relishes the reality and the challenge. And he remains engaged with the concept of meaning in his life. He realizes he still has choices … and he is making them.
2. “Between stimulus and response there is a space.
In that space is our power to choose our response.
In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
— Viktor Frankl
Well before my ALS-stricken friend’s awareness of his upcoming struggles with this horrible disease, he made a decision to begin raising service dogs for children with “silent” disabilities, such as diabetes, seizure disorders and severe food allergies. The results of this work are truly life-changing … and incrementally world-changing. In time, our Kiwanis Club adopted this effort as our Flagship Project.
He remains engaged in training dogs, families and new trainers … despite his failing health. He sets an intimidating and inspirational example.
Reflection. To make a difference: affect someone’s life positively. I believe that the “save the world” approach is a poor investment of time and treasure. At least for me. Best to help one or a few people at a time. And to make a difference that impacts the future, be a positive influence on a young person’s life.
My stricken friend has this for an email tagline, and I may start borrowing it.
“A hundred years from now, it won’t matter what my bank account was, the sort of house I lived in or the kind of car I drove…..but the world may be different because I was important in the life of a child.” — Forest E. Witcraft
With all the furore over DACA lately, superimposed on the disasters of hurricanes and earthquakes, it’s re-assuring to remember that America is overwhelmingly, by and large, a generous and merciful nation.
Americans participate in donating their time and money at a higher rate than almost any other place in the world. Although only 60-70% actually give money during any year, when rated as percentage of GDP, the US is the world’s most generous nation, donating to organizations both domestic and international … all efforts to improve the human condition across the globe. This of course does not count government foreign aid.
Toss in the fact that Americans are also most likely to help a random stranger and they are the world’s most generous folks as well.
In time, God permitting, and after many months, the affected communities will recover, thanks to human resilience, generosity and mercy.
I’ve changed my home page to show a few of the charities my wife and I support. The explanations and links are duplicated below.
[Feel free to comment or Email Joe.]
We’ve been blessed in many ways, including being financially healthy enough to financially support meaning in life. Reprised, here are some of our Favorite Charities, almost all focused on children.
Foothills Kiwanis Club Foundation: Primary activity is providing service dogs for economically disadvantaged children with invisible ailments like seizure disorders, diabetes and severe food allergies.
Also supports many child-related organizations with funds and manual labor, including Sweet Dream in a Bag, who provide personalized bedding for children in social and economic crises.
Rocky Mountain Honor Flight: Treating WW2 and Korean War vets with extreme dignity and gratitude by providing “red carpet treatment” for tours — with personal escorts — of monuments and historic sites in Washington, DC.
Smile Train: Repairing cleft pallets in third world countries. The stigma of this unfortunate defect is too difficult to understand and puts victims at an impossible social and economic disadvantage.
NAMI – National Alliance on Mental Illness: Depression is epidemic. Suicide is at the highest rates in several generations. And it is the second leading cause of death among 15-35 year olds. This age group is as disaffected as they have ever been. I weep when I consider the long term consequences of this on families, social fabric, our nation and the world.
Maji Safi Group: Bringing clean water and safe hygiene practices to villages in Tanzania.
Ethiopian Education Fund: enable disadvantaged youth and young adults, especially girls, in the Kaffa zone of southern Ethiopia to realize their full educational potential. Just one or two more years of education can make a huge difference.
Real Choices Pregnancy Centers: Helping woman in pregnancy crises in all aspects.
Wish there was peace on earth, but it seems now that it cannot happen anytime soon — at least in our lifetime. May it come some day decades hence … and may we pull together to make that more possible.
Joe Girard © 2017