Recently one of my courses at Green River College was dropped due to lack of enrollment. I wasn’t happy about it but there was nothing I could do. That left me with a choice: to mourn the loss, or to appreciate that I had enjoyed the benefit for five years. I chose to appreciate what I had.
We all make choices in life, over and over again. We have times when things go right and times when everything falls apart. Being human and having to live with a high level of uncertainty means we are constantly at risk of our lives turning negative.
This is especially true as our bodies age. What we took for granted no longer is possible. We didn’t appreciate our ability to hear others speaking or to see clearly until we had to ask people to repeat what they said, again, or had to wear glasses in order to see.
For two months this past year I had difficulty walking due to a bulging disk, which brought on sciatica – excruciating pain down my right leg. For two weeks I got around in a wheelchair.
After getting some physical therapy and learning some stretching exercises, I was able to shed my wheelchair. I walk normally again—mainly pain free. I appreciate the freedom it gives me.
I no longer take walking, something I deeply love to do, for granted. I never appreciated such a simple act until I was no longer able to do it. Now I do my stretching exercises twice a day because I don’t ever want to have a return of the pain of sciatica. It’s another of the list of rituals I have to do twice daily to compensate for physical issues that beset me.
We all have the same choices in dealing with negative things that happen to us. We can choose to get angry and frustrated and take things out on others, or we can accept the new normal and appreciate that we enjoyed our freedoms and privileges as long as we were able.
The key concept here is choice. Victor Frankl, a Jewish psychiatrist, was forced to live in a series of Nazi concentration camps during World War II. Most of the freedoms he had taken for granted before the war were stripped from him. He was forced to act and live in ways that were downright evil and degrading.
Using his analytic psychiatric training taught Frankl to observe people’s attitudes in the camps, including his own. He found that those who survived the camps were not necessarily the strongest or healthiest physically. The ones who survived were the ones who had a purpose for living. For some it was to kill every Nazi after the war. For others it was to be able to see one’s children or spouse again. Frankl’s reason for living was to rewrite the manuscript for the book he’d written before internment and seen destroyed by the Nazis. It sustained him for three years.
In other words, the ones who survived did so because they made a choice about how they were going to view their state. They found meaning and happiness even in the most abominable circumstances. They chose to live in spite of all the horror around them.
Victor Frankl survived to rewrite his manuscript. He also wrote a book called “Man’s Search For Meaning”. In this book he described his life in the camps. He came to the following conclusion: “Everything can be taken from a man or a woman but one thing: the last of human freedoms to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
This is the wisdom of Victor Frankl that all of us should consider. No one gets out of this life without suffering. We often face issues and events over which we have little or no control. How we respond to those crises is wholly up to us. Choose a meaning for living. Choose your attitude. Those are the choices all of us are given even if everything else is stripped away.