“Man’s Search for Meaning” by Viktor E. Frankl
(First published: 1945 / This edition: Beacon Press Books 2006)
Taken during a coffee break on a sunny, sunny day
The salvation of man is through love and in love. (p.37)
I think sometimes life sends you messages—a sign, a friend, a song, sudden realizations out of nowhere, etc—at perfect timings to help you through whatever problem or issue that’s troubling you. It may be something spiritual, or maybe coincidental, I don’t know—but it was exactly what you needed.
Two months ago (when I bought and read it), the “message” came to me in the form of this book.
Now, I’m not crazy enough to say that my life is comparable to that of an Auschwitz survivor’s. I just learned so much, feel more calm and relieved, understand more feelings, and gained new perspectives by reading this book.
This is a memoir. The author—an Auschwitz survivor and a psychiatrist—talks about his days in Nazi death camps and how experiences there gave him many realizations and lessons about “the meaning of life”. He talks about the first time seeing a prisoner die, shrinking to looking like a corpse, diseases, starvation, thievery that becomes such an indifferent issue, losing friends to death, and the overall atmosphere of feeling constantly that you are near death. A lot of it was hard for me to stomach—or, actually, to accept that this has actually happened in history: where humans were treated like less than animals.
Now, he doesn’t just go through these horrible events after events. Being a psychiatrist and a doctor in the camp (as well as a “normal” worker like others), he explains how the prisoners behaved and how they thought—why some are determined to survive and others aren’t; why some go into delirium. His observations and his experiences brought him to understand “the meaning of life”. To keep the prisoners going and to “support” each other (and themselves), they do things like plan the feasts they will cook for each other after they get out of the camps, or sing and create entertainment as a group. People talk about their wives and families, and the excitement of getting to see them again. It’s the “hope” that keeps them going and determined to stay alive.
He talks lovingly about his wife. While he worked in the camps, he had conversations with her in his mind. He explains that by thinking about her and their love, his feelings and moods are uplifted—and she was a vital part in his survival. Viktor E. Frankl was an intelligent and courageous man.
I highly recommend this book. I feel like everyone, at any age, should read this at least once in their lives—to be more grateful and brave. I was hooked from the beginning, and was amazed and horrified throughout (amazed at the bravery of these people and horrified at the situation of the camps, etc). It is not religious nor it tries to push certain ideas into your head. I came to understand more about hope, love (family, partner, friends), and staying strong mindfully and soulfully. I became more calm and accepting of life and time. I became more appreciative of love.
Here are some of my favorite lines from this book:
[…] love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which man can aspire. Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love. I understood how a man who has nothing left in this world still may know bliss, be it only for a brief moment, in the contemplation of his beloved. (p.37)
My mind still clung to the image of my wife. A thought crossed my mind: I didn’t even know if she were still alive. I knew only one thing—which I have learned well by now: Love goes very far beyond the physical person of the beloved. It finds its deepest meaning in his spiritual being, his inner self. Whether or not he is actually present, whether or not he is still alive at all, ceases somehow to be of importance. (p.38)
From all this we may learn that there are two races of men in this world but only these two—the “race” of the decent man and the “race” of the indecent man. Both are found everywhere; they penetrate into all groups of society. No group consists entirely of decent or indecent people. In this sense, no group is of “pure race”. (p.86)
No man should judge unless he asks himself in absolute honesty whether in a similar situation he might not have done the same. (p.48)