Living with a chronic illness for most of my adult life has led to Existential questions almost every day: why am I here, why do I continue to suffer, will things ever get better, is there a real reason to keep struggling, and should I compare my situation with that of others? Since it was first published in 1946, millions have turned to Dr. Viktor Frankl’s non-fiction text, Man’s Search for Meaning, in hope of finding an answer to even one of the many mysteries that plague the human race. Viktor Frankl studied psychiatry under Sigmund Freud in Vienna, Austria before he was imprisoned in Auschwitz, among other concentration camps. (p.10) In the text, he writes about the tortures he and his fellow inmates underwent as a way to describe the escape mechanisms humans use to survive the worst possible situations. After his survival, finding his entire family had perished, Frankl sought deeper meaning in life. He also looked for ways to help patients who struggled to find reasons to live from day-to-day, he called this treatment logotherapy. (p.1)
The text is divided in two portions; and, the first consists of stories from the concentration camp, including ways the doctor and others tolerated days, weeks, months, and years of brutality. There is a vast amount of sadness, which often elicit tears from the reader, in the memories of Dr. Frankl’s time spent in Auschwitz. Still, it is the lessons about the strength of the human condition, and how those who are willing can train their minds to transcend difficulties to see love and beauty in the world that stand out most. Men and women were separated in the camps. Thus, during his time spent in the camp, Frankl never knew what had become of the person he cherished most, his wife. He recalls one day, in spite of the scent of burning flesh, the dead, and the dying, another man mentioning what their wives would think if they saw them in that moment. (p.56) As memories of Frankl’s own wife, her image, smile, and the joy she brought to his life came flooding back. Frankl invites the reader to share in the intimacy of not only one his most private of recollections, he teaches the reader how to use the highest of human experiences to surpass the cruelest situations. He writes, “A thought transfixed me: for the first time in my life I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers. The truth- that love is the ultimate and highest goal by which we can aspire.“ (p.57) One thought of love, even in a concentration camp, was able to raise his spirits. Love, which according to Frankl is powerful because it comes from a conscious decision of the inner-self to find meaning, carried him and many others through their deepest travails. In addition to love, Frankl says that recognizing “the beauty of art and nature” aid in the human capacity to rise above agony and sorrow. (p.60) Prisoners, he remembered with sadness, would watch the horizon as they worked in the cold, admiring how beautiful the world could be as they struggled. Depressing a thought though this may be, the reason the author mentions these hurtful parts of his past is to show the way the human mind operates to survive. We constantly strive to find love and beauty, even in the worst of times, because these are the things that mean the most to us.