Viktor Frankl wrote in his book, Man’s Search for Meaning that “Forces beyond your control can take away everything you possess except one thing, your freedom to choose how you will respond to the situation. You cannot control what happens to you in life, but you can always control what you will feel and do about what happens to you.”
Yes, we can be in control of how we respond to situations that impact us—we can respond with love. Frankl went on to write: “The more one forgets himself—by giving himself to a cause to serve or another person to love—the more human he is and the more he actualizes himself.”
Frankl’s words came from his observations of the way prisoners in Nazi concentration camps in World War II responded. I can testify that Frankl’s words ring quite true for at least some of the survivors of those camps, because my mother and I were among them. In the last days of the war, on April 13, 1945, American soldiers liberated my mother and me from the train on which we’d been sent out of one of the camps, Bergen-Belsen. Sadly, my father had died in the camp three months earlier. My mother was extremely ill and weighed only seventy pounds. What somehow kept her going and gave her the strength to keep on living despite starvation and sickness was that she had me—a six year old—to love and live for.
Now, faced with the world-wide threat of the coronavirus, we find ourselves in a situation that seems to be way out of our control. And yet, how we respond to it is, in fact, within our control, if we put into practice Winston Churchill’s sage advice:
“A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity. The optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”
On the one hand, we can blame governments for the way our officials do or don’t respond to this pandemic, and feel demoralized by the tight restrictions placed upon our movements as well as by the overwhelmingly depressing news reports. On the other hand, we can become more aware of the needs of others and help them out as best we can. And, by the same token, we can graciously accept offers from others when they extend a helping hand to us.
There are unlimited new things to learn and ways to stay connected. For example, I recently was introduced to some of the myriad ways to use Zoom to meet with others. As a result, I’ve participated in a meeting of a Board of which I’m a member, taken part in church services that were live streamed and listened to a most interesting talk that I probably would not have attended in person.
I am walking my neighborhood more often and have begun listening to podcasts, which are also new to me. My daughter and I have Skyped so she could help me with a task at which she is more proficient than I am. I’m in touch with more people than I typically am, with emails flying back and forth among family members and friends, and even in the form of letters. I receive photos from family and friends and send them photos of my garden, as the various flowers and plants spring forth this time of year. The internet then becomes a means of sending each other such “gifts.”
“Love one another…Love is liberation” is a quintessential guide for us to live by now, as it has been for people from all walks of life, throughout history. (Excerpted from a poem by Margaret Morrison and from hymn 179 of the Christian Science Hymnal.)