He who has a Why to live for can bear almost any How.
Over the weekend I read a good portion of Man’s Search for Meaning, by Viktor Frankl. This is, of course, a classic work, detailing Frankl’s survival against all odds in a Nazi concentration camp. The basic premise is that Frankl and others like him were able to attach meaning to their lives. Survival was more likely, though far from certain, among those who found a reason to live. The horrific numbers tell the story of those who did not survive, but even among the victims, those with meaning were able to face death with courage.
At one point, Frankl quotes Friedrich Nietzsche: “He who has a Why to live for can bear almost any How.” Frankl grasped his why with both hands, and this helped him to survive the how of the concentration camp. His story is noble and inspiring as are the stories of many others who have shown courage in the face of suffering and death.
I have nothing but admiration and respect for those who have lived or are living these stories of courage, but these stories are not mine.
I am living in a comfortable house in a peaceful neighborhood. I have three beautiful children and a husband who loves me. My why and my how are all right here, and yet I find it hard to have courage even in the face of life. I feel so ungrateful and alone. I read about all these brave and noble people, and I wonder, where are the stories about people like me?
This morning I was making gluten-free, sugar-free, apple cider pancakes for the “whys” in my life. It is my own special recipe. The “how” of it is not difficult for me; and yet, as I was standing at the kitchen counter measuring all the different gluten free flours, I experienced the familiar dread of anxiety welling up inside of me. I willed myself to go on, not even caring that the toddler was throwing rice from his sensory bin all over the kitchen floor. At least he was not whining….
I was listening to my Pandora station, trying to perhaps suppress my anxiety with the distraction of music, and “Her Morning Elegance” by Oren Lavie started playing. I stirred the flours, the baking powder, the salt, and the cinnamon as I listened:
And she fights for her life as she puts on her coat. And she fights for her life on the train. She looks at the rain as it pours. And she fights for her life as she goes in the store. With a thought she has caught by a thread. She pays for the bread and she goes. Nobody knows…
This is my story. Here is a perfectly ordinary woman: she has flowers, she has a cello, she has a job, she has money for bread, but still she is fighting for her life. (I only just watched the video today when I was looking for a link, and I don’t have any comment except that apparently a woman can be gorgeous and still “fighting for her life.” It was the music and the lyrics that appealed to me.) Her life seems so pleasant, and yet inside there is a hidden torment that nobody sees.
I never thought I’d find consolation in a pop song. It is not a song about courage in the face of death. It is a song about continuing on in the face of life. It tells a story to which I can relate. I don’t take the train to work. I stay home, change diapers, cook meals, and correct math problems, but that hidden torment is still there. I don’t know why I am so anxious, so lonely, so depressed, but I am.
I am not doing anything noteworthy or courageous; I am just here fighting for my one little life. I am playing the piano, taking walks with the baby, saying my prayers, teaching the boys, and some days it is so hard. Not many people know or understand that it is hard, but there are a few who do, and they do their best to support me. One of my steadfast supporters sent me this quote from Julian of Norwich:
All shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.
I suppose it is true. If I believe in God, and I do, then it must be true. I think of it in terms of the words of St. Paul:
We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose. Romans 8:28
All shall be well because God is in charge. He is working all things, even my depression and anxiety, for the good.
Today the good is that I have connected with a song and a story. I finish listening, and I sweep up the rice on the floor. As I cook the pancakes, instead of washing dishes, I snap pictures and write these words in my head. The exercise attaches some purpose to my anxiety, if only for today, and as I continue the composition in my head, the tension dissipates, perhaps just a little.
I will keep fighting for my one little life. I may not be brave, but I will continue on in the face of this life that God has given me. In truth, my life is full of blessing. I may not be aware of any grand meaning, but I do know that I have a family to love, and I will trust God to take care of the rest. For today, I have a story to share. I have found that I am not alone, and if you are reading, perhaps you have found that you are not alone either.