Reflections on a Life Transformed

Someone mentioned Viktor Frankl’s book, and I did the dance below in my heart.

“Man’s Search for Meaning” was a book that was assigned reading in college. It was one tile in a mosaic that convinced me life was maleable, even if I didn’t have the tools or even know what they might be.

College was a delight: a zany mishmash of progressive and reactionary, wise and wounded, drugged and sober, hopeful and despairing. I felt very strong that there were answers to the pain and confusion in me. But answers were more suggestions than practical steps. Sometimes, it seemed like there were no useful answers.

I had a tough start as many of us from that ear did. I had grown up seeing what World War II had done to the people all around me. Hate, pain, all these people racked by memories that would not let go of them. I was a kid in the middle of all that. So a great deal of it fell on me, and I took a lot of it on. I developed the idea that the meaning of my life was to understand evil, so we could banish it forever. Hellvua load for a little kid’s shoulders, but it seemed so obvious. I trusted that everyone else wanted to find meaning again, too, even if they didn’t act like it outwardly.

All the same, that was a really tough time. I felt such a strong need to believe there was good in the world, people who would fight for sanity and love. But childhood pain breaks your knees, clogs up your heart, drowns your heart. I couldn’t even see right from wrong, love from need.

So: in college, I read Frankl’s book. And a lot besides. I marched before my two driving forces: find an answer to evil, and find some damn meaning.

I hungered for a life that didn’t always feel like a knife in my back.

On some level, it’s just strange that a fellow in that position would believe anything at all was possible, let alone healing and love. I have no idea why I believed so strongly that I could head toward a future in the right direction. I moved by inches, mostly. Someone showed up to help me at many of my little steps — hundreds of people said kind words, shared a tidbit of wisdom, hugged me, listened to me, confronted me, showed me good things in hearts. (I cry whenever I think how many people helped me with kindness, especially when I had none of my own. Thank you.)

My intention, thus nourished, grew: not just to survive, but to thrive, to go as far as I could in whatever direction there was for me. Mostly, it was just forward. (This turns out to have been, and remains, a good choice.)

One day the sun is shining like it always does, but now it means something. A person smiles at me, and it means more than I can comprehend. Searching is one step, and once you are in motion, life is unbounded in every direction.