Enduring through horror requires clear meaning

I doubt there is a person alive who does not want happiness, fulfilment, and a deep sense of meaning for their lives.  To be human is to desire a life with purpose.  Sadly we look in the wrong places. We imagine a meaningful life is devoid of suffering.  That is a big mistake.
Victor Frankl (1905-1997) the Jewish-Austrian psychiatrist who survived the Nazi death camps of Auschwitz-Birkenau and later Dacchau, discovered a unique path to a meaningful life. 
Each morning in the Holocaust camps roll call was held. Numbers tototooed to the prisoners’ wrists were read out. In this bizarre lottery if your number came up, you were taken to the gas chamber for execution.
The holocaust was an extreme form of the same randomness we are living in Covid19.  Some get the virus and show no symptoms, others get Covid and die. It’s a viral lottery.Frankl the psychiatrist-prisoner watched people go insane with fear and grief.  Who would blame them? But he also observed many prisoners who did not break down.In the back of Frankl’s mind as he observed this meaningless hell, was a maxim written decades before by Frederick Nietzsche (1844-1900) , “He who has a Why? in life can tolerate almost any How?” 
Frankl noticed that those who looked beyond themselves and their suffering even in the hell of the Holocaust, were able to stay sane and find meaning.  He wrote of his experiences and discoveries in the book, “Man’s search for meaning” which outlines the basis for his “logotherapy”. In Greek, logos describes “meaning” or “plan”. Finding meaning heals the mind.
According to Frankl, “We can discover this meaning in life in three different ways: 1. by creativity or acts of kindness; 2. by experiencing something or encountering someone; and 3. by the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering” He also believed that “everything can be taken from a person except one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any set of circumstances”. Frankl gives the following example:“Once, an elderly physician consulted me because of his 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? I refrained from telling him anything, but instead confronted him with a question, “What would have happened if you had died first, and your wife had survived 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 is you who have saved her this suffering; but now, you have to pay for it by surviving and mourning her.” He said no word but shook my hand and calmly left the office.”
In attending to those whose suffering moves us, and in caring for those whose losses break our hearts, we find a transcendence that makes our situation bearable and gives us meaning.


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