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#BookRiffs: Man's Search For Meaning

I don't expect to actually review books here, but I thought I would write a little bit periodically about books that I've read and what I've taken from them. Viktor E. Frankl's MAN'S SEARCH FOR MEANING is this week's selection.

Boy, this book.

My mom gave me my copy of MAN'S SEARCH FOR MEANING a few years ago at Christmas. I think she could tell I was going through a rough patch and thought it would help; she'd read it years ago and remembered it having a profound impact on her.

Naturally, I put it on a bookshelf and didn't look at it again for years.

But I brought it with me when I packed up my apartment in Vancouver and drove across to PEI, and shortly after I got to the farm, I dug the book out and decided to give it a try.

It's funny how books seem to find you at the right time in your life. I'd read Laurence Gonzales' DEEP SURVIVAL just before this book, and Frankl's experience seem to distill what Gonzales was writing about down to its essence.

Frankl was a survivor. This book is in large part comprised of descriptions of his life in the Nazi death camps that killed the rest of his family. It's an unflinching look at one of the most terrible chapters in humanity's history, and one man's meditation on survival and resilience.

As Gonzales does, Frankl observes how he and his comrades in the concentration camps endured enormous, unspeakable suffering--and yet somehow still maintained their senses of humour, and their capacities to be moved by music, by a beautiful sunrise.

He writes about how he found purpose in his suffering by finding projects to work on--by writing, secretly, notes and drafts of this book, for instance. And by caring for others; as a doctor, he found himself assigned to infirmary barracks, where typhus and other ailments ran rampant.

And he writes about how, despite maintaining a sense of humour and appreciating the world's natural beauty, despite keeping his mind active by writing and caring for others, his survival and that of those around him was dependent less on anything he did or didn't do, and almost entirely on blind, brutal chance.

It must have been maddening, to be rendered so powerless in the face of such suffering. But Frankl's point is one that has been echoed in a few other books I've read recently, and it's one that I've tried to take to heart:

We cannot avoid suffering. But we can choose how to cope with it, find meaning in it, and move forward.

We're all bound to suffer, many times in our lives, in ways big and small. In many instances, we can't control when and how it happens.

But we can control how we respond.

That's something I've tried to keep in mind as I've dealt with the speedbumps I've faced over the last little while. I hope it's something I can keep in mind when a really big problem arises.

And I hope I can handle it with Frankl's grace and dignity, and his eloquence.

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