1941, Viktor Frankl was a prominent Jewish psychiatrist and neurologist in Vienna, Austria. The threat of Nazi concentration camps was increasing, but Viktor had found a way out: a visa that would allow him to take his new wife and his promising career to America and to safety.
But Viktor knew that when the Nazis came, they would take the elderly first—including, likely, his aging parents. They would need his care and support. Anguished, he searched his soul and sought heavenly guidance about what to do.
Then, one day, he came home to find a piece of marble on the table. His father explained that he had retrieved it from the rubble of a nearby synagogue that the Nazis had destroyed. Coincidentally, it was a fragment from an engraving of one of the Ten Commandments: "Honour thy father and thy mother."
Viktor had his answer. He stayed with his parents in Austria, and within a few months, Viktor, his wife, and his parents were arrested and taken to a concentration camp.
Over the next three years, Viktor discovered an important difference between those who survived the camps and those who did not: a sense of meaning. The ability to find meaning even in horrific circumstances, he observed, gave prisoners
resilience in the face of suffering.
After the war was over, Viktor wrote a book, Man's Search for Meaning, describing what he learned. It took him nine days to write and eventually sold millions of copies. The Library of Congress has listed it as one of the 10 most influential books in the United States.
In one way or another, we are all involved in our own search for meaning. Our ability to find it depends a lot on where we're looking. We're likely to discover, as Viktor Frankl did, that life's true meaning does not come from pursuing our own happiness but from sacrificing for something bigger. Whatever that something is—family and friends, faith and community, volunteering and serving others—it can give our lives more purpose than we could ever find in just ourselves.
Lloyd D. Newell