Viktor Frankl’s concentration camp memoir Man’s Search for Meaning was recommended as a comfort and beacon as I attempt to regrasp meaning, an elusive and complex task for many widows.
Considered one of the most influential books of the 20th century, Frankl takes the reader through his experiences, revealing the diversity of individuals in the human response to suffering, thereby debunking Freud’s theory of ultimate uniformity under suffering.
Frankl points the reader to find meaning in love, hope, nature, art, serving, inner freedom and one’s responsibility for their own unique life.
My copy is underlined and dog-eared, his main points separated to help my soul hear more clearly his encouragement. There is one particular paragraph stood out from the whole book, one might overlook it as an aside.
He tells a story that seems so much a poem he believes his reader might think he invented it.
A young woman, days away from death appeared cheerful despite knowing her end was near. She shared she was grateful for her hardship, as previously she was spoiled and unspiritual. She points to a tree outside her window, just two blossoms on a chestnut branch are visible,
“It is the only friend I have in my loneliness. I often talk to this tree.”
Startled and anxious, he wonders if she is hallucinating or delusional. “ Does the tree respond?”
“Yes. It said to me, ``I am here—I am here —I am life, eternal life’.”
When I first encountered this retelling it seemed not only poetic, but biblical in weight, as if Viktor had experienced the Trinity in the unfolding of his moments with this woman and felt the same responsibility as the Biblical authors did when they included the unnamed woman who lovingly anointed Jesus.
This woman met her death within days of this exchange. Most of her life she admitted had little spiritual direction, yet she had profoundly experienced God and shared that with Viktor by including him in her conversation with a blossoming branch. He witnessed her receiving otherworldly compassion and comfort from blooming creation which grew from the same ancient temporal clay she was made of.
She wasn’t delusional or hallucinating, but literally experiencing some of the most deeply spiritual moments of her life. Her very real life and death did not convey any denominational theology, but a simple honest lovely peace. Her innocence and awe will ever blow through the blossoming orchards I attend.
Our most precious possession, our presence and life on this planet is merely a visit. As temporary visitors we spend much of our lives longing to belong, trying to decipher the meaning and purpose of this visit, or being distracted from its holiness.
We chase, and follow, confuse and confound our longing to be, with doing and achieving, before BEING. Until there is enough silence, we fail to hear what we long to know.
I’ve never become so aware of how much I believed meaning was completely found in purpose. Serving, learning, teaching, helping, mothering, supporting are all so meaningful and purposeful.
My first conditioned response to finding meaning in this loss was to figure out how I would help others. The devastation rendered me incapable of helping anyone. While this may come in time, and will be meaningful, it is not what gives my life meaning, purpose or hope in this dark night of the soul.
Simply surrendering to “being” is all there is right now.
And listening to the blossoms speak
" I am here….
I am life
“Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me….I tell you the truth, wherever this gospel is preached through the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”
March 5, 2021