February 24, 2009, Observation:
Victor E. Frankl wrote his landmark book, "Man's Search for Meaning" in 1945, having lived through the Holocaust and witnessing the deaths of his immediate family and extended family as well. I read his book for the first time as a college student and it had a great impact upon me then. What he said struck a chord with me and rang true. Now, based on 20 years experience of living life paralyzed from the neck down and on life support his words are even more profound and meaningful to me. If you have never read the book you must do so and if you read it many years ago you owe it to yourself to read it again.
His insights and reflections regarding those who were able to survive the death camps of the Holocaust are timeless and applicable to anyone who has faced seemingly impossible circumstances that life has brought their way. There are many individuals, like those who lived in the death camps, who share similar experiences: paralysis, cancer, heart problems, multiple sclerosis, marital and family problems, financial problems, etc., but who react to them in different ways. In the death camps, there were those who simply gave up and died, while others survived and eventually went on to live happy and productive lives. The same is true with the less dramatic experiences that so many of us share in common. There are those who simply give up in the face of their adversity, while others, being faced with the same adversity, seem to actually grow stronger, and in many cases, survive the seemingly non-survivable.
In the short paragraph below, Frankl identifies something those who survived the death camps had in common, as opposed to those who simply gave up and died.
"A man who becomes conscious of the responsibility he bears toward a human being who affectionately waits for him, or to an unfinished work, will never be able to throw away his life. He knows the "why" for his existence, and will be able to bear almost any "how."
My understanding of what Frankl is saying is that if we know that family members need our love and that we are loved in return, and if we have some work, some significant project (at least to us) that we have a desire to complete, then we will be blessed with a desire to live and press forward regardless of the seemingly impossible odds we are facing.
I know this has been the case with me during the past 20 years. Because of the love and support I have received from our family and because I still feel I can contribute in my own unique way in strengthening and blessing my loved ones, I have a great will to continue to live. I also have projects and work, goals to achieve, that make me excited to get up each day and go to work. I would imagine the worst day of my life would be that there was nothing to get up for and to accomplish. I haven't faced that day yet, thank goodness.
As insightful as Frankl's observations are regarding survival, I believe he left out the most important ingredient which is faith and hope. Several weeks ago Jo Anne had me watch a 20/20 program on ABC which she had previously recorded. It was a documentary on survival. There were five or six different individuals whose survival stories were told. Many of these people were severely injured and should have died, but did not. One man lost both legs when a train ran over him and should have died on the spot but was able to keep his wits about him and get help through his cell phone. He continues to live a productive life without legs. The moderator had interviewed dozens of survivors all over the world and discovered a common element in all those who had the will to live and did so. That common element was faith in God. They were all from different religious traditions but they believed that God could help them and their faith gave them the hope and will to cling to life.
Faith and hope, coupled with family love and support and daily goals in seeking to accomplish some great good, will kindle and cause to blaze within our hearts the will to live and be productive.
There are many examples, both negative and positive, regarding what I have written above. I have known four men, younger than me, who have sustained spinal cord injuries that left them paralyzed from the neck down and on life support. All of them had more movement of their upper body than I have and yet each of them died within two years of their accident. I was able to visit with three of them several times in care facilities where they were being warehoused because family members were unwilling or unable to bring them home and see to their rehabilitation. My heart would just break because I could see their potential and yet they were without hope and I believe, in at least three cases, they simply died of a broken heart. In one case, after two years of not being able to get out of bed because of horrible pressure sores, the poor man with his family's support and permission went through the necessary legal paperwork so that he could be disconnected from his life-support system. He was finally injected with a sedative and the doctors "pulled the plug" as he had desired.
There is no way I can describe my sorrow as I have experienced these needless deaths and miserable lives. What contributions to family, friends, and society at large could these men have made had they received the family support they needed, had some great goal to work toward, and had greater faith and hope in a loving and kind Heavenly Father?
Thankfully, there are many more positive examples that we all are aware of. How proud I am of the many individuals I know who, for example, are battling cancer with great courage, or courageously fight other difficult health challenges, who never give up, and bless so many other lives in the process.
One of my favorite historical characters is Winston Churchill. The essence of his life is captured in the words he spoke to his countrymen during the dark days of World War II, "NEVER, NEVER, NEVER, GIVE UP!" Hopefully his words will be the essence of our lives regardless of what circumstances life may bring our way.