A long time ago I had read some books by the Austrian psychologist Viktor Frankl. Frankl was a concentration camp survivor and wrote a book about his experience, called “Man’s Search for Meaning”.
Frankl believed that the search for happiness leads people to misfortune (or even death – in concentration camp conditions), and that true happiness cannot be achieved through the search for happiness, but may be achieved through the search for the meaning of life.
“Happiness”, Frankl wrote, “cannot be pursued; it must ensue.”
This is what I wanted to write about. But upon re-reading Frankl’s works, I was astonished by one particular turning point in his life.
Frankl (a Jew) lived and worked in Austria. He was a famous psychologist; in his youth a work of his was recommended for publication by Sigmund Freud himself. He specialized in working with depression and suicide prevention. When the Nazis began forcing the Jews into concentration camps, he was able to receive an American visa and could leave together with his pregnant wife (he had recently got married).
But he could not take his parents with him. And he felt that it was his duty to be with them in the camp and to help them adapt to camp life when they were taken away (he understood the inevitability of this).
He could choose life and freedom (and the life of his wife and unborn child), or stay with his parents. Not knowing what to do, he went to a Catholic Cathedral to calm his mind. There, listening to the music of the organ, he asked himself the question: “what should I do?”, and asked Heaven for a sign.
And he got his sign. When he returned home, he learned that the Nazis had destroyed a synagogue not far from his family’s house, and the Jews living nearby took some tablets, bearing inscriptions, from the synagogue into their houses. His father brought home a marble stone, on which one of the 10 commandments – on honoring one’s parents – was carved.
Frankl took it as a sign. He stayed. In 1942 he and his family were taken to the camp. After 3 years he left it alone – his wife and parents had died. In the same year he wrote a book that became a bestseller.
And I thought: we often ask for a sign from the heavens, but do we always have the strength of spirit to follow the path that they show?…