By Alexander Taylor
The Shortest Path to Peace
Viktor Frankl survived the death camps of Auschwitz, and wrote a book called Man’s Search for Meaning.
He faced the worst of human suffering. The bitter cold. No food to eat. His friends executed by gas. He once asked a fellow prisoner where his friend was. The prisoner asked him whether his friend was sent to the left, or the right queue. Frankl replied right. The prisoner replied by grimly pointing at a billowing wisp of smoke in the sky. The ovens churned day, and night, and day, and night.
And yet, Frankl describes that it was Auschwitz that gave him his perspective on life’s meaning. Because the worst suffering was already happening, what was there possibly to lose hope about? As long as each man had a purpose to live for, each man could endure to see the next day.
“He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.”
Frankl recalls regaling this quote, originally from Nietzsche, to his comrades during a period of starvation in the camp. The men were close to losing all hope. A recent spate of suicides had exhausted their wills. But Frankl reminded them that things could only get better. They were already in the worst situation imaginable. If they had anything to cling onto, a book to be finished, a family to be reunited with, then they had purpose.
As they hammered sleepers into German railroads, they did so in this frame of mind. The guards could make them walk across snow barefoot, for hours. But frostbite could not reach the mind.
I want to understand this as much as possible.
I want to complain about my four hours of sleep. I want to moan about the crammed commute. I want to unload the dirt on washing-up liquid briefs to fellow students.
But no amount of complaining changes a situation, a brief.
Frankl remembers looking up and seeing a lark flying overhead. He vividly recalls seeing the beauty in its freedom. Stretching its wings and going with the wind in search of adventure. And, likely, worms. Instead of being jealous of the lark, he felt pleased to see beauty.
I woke up this morning at 3am. I can’t seem to sleep at the moment. But I decided not to grumble. I looked out my window around 5am and saw a plane flying overhead. I used to call them jumbo jets when I was younger. I watched it blink, blink through the sky. There were probably a hundred or so people on board, all with their own lives. All with people, and connections, and little drink trays with plastic cups of orange juice, and meaning, and safety cards they probably haven’t read through, and reasons to be on this earth.
As a straightwhitemale, I would not want to lecture you with the word privilege. But I think everyone has it, in spades, should they pause to look up from time to time. Being alive is really beautiful, you just have to first think it.