We would be fools not be afraid. This is ripping every emotional, social, and economic system to its shredding point. But we do not have to lose ourselves to this modern fall from what could be our redemptive amends for all that we have wrought. We can do this. You got this. I got this.
Awakening this morning, I felt the need to reread Viktor Frankl’s ‘Mans Search for Meaning’. Through the years its wisdom has helped pull me from whatever nonsense I have gotten myself into.
Feeling that we are prisoners of this virus, I went to my bookshelf. We are at the mercy of this creature, politicians, and those of the masses who put us all at risk because they do not take this seriously.
But then again, are we really captives? Frankl came through the concentration camps more emotionally intact than many because he encased his suffering with his connection to life, soul, nature, and spirit. This is a lesson for us to heed. His instinct and natural leaning toward relationship to others, faith in something bigger than himself, an astounding will to be, and his cunning capacity to be present amidst the constancy of terror, enabled him to maneuver through those years.
We are not free to walk about. We are not free to feel the human touch of community that is so essential for wellbeing, especially for those who live alone. Worries about food availability, work, financial stability, loved ones, and the world at large is a mist of burden that surrounds us. Sometimes it is a light spray of concern, other times it is a suffocating haze of fear, and at its worst, a drenching downpour in its voracity of collective trauma.
Of being a prisoner, Frankl says that “…the last of human freedoms” is the ability to “choose one’s attitude in a given set of circumstances.” He urges us to find our way to this through many illustrations of his own experience. Choose well, choose whole-heartedly. Live through this time soulfully. We may be confined, but we are not without some self-determination.
And then Frankl offers us this: “In spite of all the enforced physical and mental primitiveness of the life in a concentration camp, it was possible for spiritual life to deepen.” If you don’t resonate with ‘spiritual’, replace it with the belief that your inner depth of self, mind, and heart is what will save you.
Taking signs from the world outside of the awareness of pain and torture, Frankl sees the movement of a bird that is so brilliantly timed to his ‘communing’ with his beloved wife, who for all he knew was already dead, he writes, “Then, at that very moment, a bird flew down silently and perched just in front of me, on the heap of soil which I had dug up from the ditch, and looked steadily at me.”
Frankl grasps there is a future beyond the hell he is in. There is the wider expanse of the world, nature, and the will to be. All in time, Frankl knows this hell will pass.
We have a unique relationship to time. Because we are conscious of it we can reach time in all directions. We ponder it. We celebrate it. We mourn it. And in desperate moments we call to it. But its beat is neutral to us.
Come toward me time, you voracious one. You with eyes that sear the rains to steam, push the winds to scream and whisper the birds to lofty migration. I hold one till its feathers leave their imprint like a fossil. My palm holds their story. My hands become an artifact to unearth.
Time, you do not tell me anything, but show me through my acts of reckoning. That is your answer. Do you judge, or is that a human convention? I breathe you like the air I cannot see. I hold and release you inside my intention to cleanse and renew. It is I who must come toward you.
Time does not heal all wounds. Time allows us the distance we need for the sting of pain, the immobility of fear, the howling of our hearts in the darkness of agony. But remember that time also shares the wide stroke of the infinite that shows us its beauty.
We are the healers. We can clasp pain to us, or we can render it a tempered breath that laments into grief and then sighs into a place of quiet but for the trill of our heartbeat. We can halt the blood that our pain has spilled. It does not have to have a continual voice. Offer it to time that in turn will offer us wisdom.
I see the banners of love and prayer and the cannons of a fierce battle. Going between the two, I am losing patience with both camps. We must find a meeting place where our shared humanity creates connectedness and change.
Again, we let Frankl teach us. “Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” Today that space is the stillness of staying in place. Today it is the tarry of our fingers on our keyboards. Today it is a pause between words of retort. We must reflect before we react.
Fearful, even terrified of what is coming and how it will leave us, I face it so it doesn’t pummel me first. I walk toward it barefoot. The ground is strewn with spongy balls of mud made from the tears for those we have already lost. Each footstep I take is a prayer for their past and our future.
And so here we are. In this churning whirlpool of tumult, we are doing reluctant pirouettes in spinning waters where we will either drown or find a grace that will sustain us. We have a choice, not about if we feel fear, but how we live with it. How will we embody it? Are we going to accept its truth and invite it in? Yes. Give it a place at our table where we will feed it with compassionate words and wise actions.