“What is the meaning of life?” Pt. 2

In the previous post, I talked abit about Viktor Frankl’s book Man’s Search For Meaning. Today I’m going to continue with one other topic from the book which I found quite enlightening.

Something which I have always struggled to grasp with was the meaning of suffering. You know how some kinds of suffering are just inevitable and out of our control? Death of a loved one, some sort of chronic disease, a crippling accident, and the list goes on… No one wishes for these things to happen, they just do. How could we even find meaning in such suffering when it was a stroke of devil’s fate? Something that just happened by chance, and not because we deserved it?

Viktor Frankl talks about a man who consulted him because of severe depression. The man could not overcome the loss of his wife who had passed away 2 years before. This is a quote from the book:

The man had loved his wife above all else. Now, how could I help him? What should I tell him?

Well, I refrained from telling him anything but instead confronted him with the question, “What would have happened if you had died first, and your wife would have had to survive you?”

“Oh,” he said, “for her this would have been terrible; how she would have suffered!”

Whereupon I replied, “You see, such a suffering has been spared her, and it was you who have spared her this suffering – to be sure, at the price that now you have to survive and mourn her.”

He said no word but shook my hand and calmly left my office. In some way, suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning, such as the meaning of a sacrifice.

The way he enlightened the man so simply kind of makes it seem doubtful/shady, but in no case was this a formal form of therapy. The man was just mourning the loss of a loved one, something which shouldn’t count as a disease. But just by changing the attitude of the man towards his suffering, by contributing meaning to it, he accepts and becomes worthy of his suffering.

In unavoidable types of suffering, by accepting the challenge from life to suffer bravely, with love and humour, life retains a meaning up to the last moment.

Let me recall that which was perhaps the deepest experience I had in the concentration camp. The odds of surviving the camp were no more than 1/28. It seemed to be that I would die in the near future. In this critical situation, however, my concern was different from that of most of my comrades.

Their question was, “Will we survive the camp? For if not, all this suffering has no meaning.”

The question which beset me was, “Has all this suffering, this dying around us, a meaning? For, if not, then ultimately there is no meaning to survival; for a life whose meaning depends upon such a happenstance – as whether one escapes or not – ultimately would not be worth living at all.”

Within inescapable suffering, in order not to give up on ourselves, and because we know the chances of surviving are slim, we have to give meaning to the suffering itself, and create good thoughts and actions out of it.

Just hoping that we’d recover or escape from the suffering wouldn’t give meaning to the suffering as that’d just be skipping to the end point, rendering the entire suffering meaningless.

Of course, it’s easier to just talk about it than actually live by this. But I’m glad I finally managed to grasp this, at least in my thoughts. I hope to grow to have as much courage as the people who own their sufferings.


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