Contributor Post Created with Sketch. Losing the Will to Live

 

Franz leaned back in his chair, massaging the bridge of his nose under his eyeglasses. It was 4:45 pm, nearly time to leave. He sighed and then his eye caught the photograph of his wife, Anna, and daughter, Greta. Anna was sitting on the arm of the sofa looking down at Greta with a slight smile on her face, while Greta beamed at the camera. They were dressed in their best clothes, which were modest by German standards, but the style of their clothing was overshadowed by the intimacy and pure love they shared. Greta held her favorite doll in her lap, one passed down to her by her Grandma. She called the doll Rebecca as her grandmother had. Franz touched the glass covering the photo and moved the frame closer.

He was a bank clerk and he had been in his current job for five years. He wasn’t a stellar employee but a reliable one, never having missed one day of work. He had enjoyed the work environment, although lately it had started to change. Colleagues who had once smiled at him or returned his smile, or had stopped by his desk to chat seemed to have distanced themselves. He continued to be courteous to everyone, but he felt as if he were becoming invisible. At least when he arrived home that evening, he would be greeted with delight.

He had no way of knowing that when he kissed Anna goodbye that morning and stroked Greta’s hair, the leave-taking would be the last time he would see them.

* * *

Three Years Later . . .

Shivering and feverish, Franz curled up on the boards that were meant to be his bed. He was trying to hold on to hope. One month ago he’d had a dream where a voice had told him that the camp would be liberated on March 30. In spite of the late hour, it was still March 30. He knew he was deathly ill, but the voice had been so insistent, so persuasive. But March 31 was only hours away. And he was tired. Cold. Beyond desperate. There were only the smells, the lice, the hunger, the deep sadness. Maybe if he closed his eyes for only a moment . . .

* * *

This little story was created from a tale in Viktor Frankl’s book, Man’s Search for Meaning. Forty years after reading the book, the story that Frankl told of the man who was certain he would be liberated, and died when he was not, has stayed with me.

We live in a time that is secular, materialistic, and without grounding. The ideas that helped people create stability and meaning, such as families, values, and community are disappearing. If you were to have a discussion with an acquaintance, and you asked her what gave her life meaning, would she likely respond to your question with a blank stare or ask what you meant?

I am grateful that most of us on Ricochet would understand that question and would know what it means to live a life of meaning.

There are 13 comments.

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  1. Arahant Member

    Quite a powerful story.


    This conversation is an entry in our Group Writing Series under August’s theme of Will. And so? What are you waiting for? We still have twelve slots left. Are you looking for a gilded invitation? Do you think people in China have opportunities to write like you do? Express yourself! It’s free. Will you just sign up already? Right here.

    • #1
    • August 8, 2018, at 7:23 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  2. KentForrester Moderator

    Susan, your question, “What gives your life meaning?” leaves me foundering for an answer.

    I think that’s because when your life has meaning, you don’t question it. However, your post has inspired me to think a little harder about my life than I normally do.

    My life is given meaning by the satisfactions and pleasures that arrive daily without much consciousness on my part: my wife (most of all), the kids, the grandkids. It’s satisfying to watch the kids move through life. It’s fun to watch the grandkids learn and grow. 

    When I got up this morning, I put on a pair of socks that Marie got me for my 80th birthday. It’s covered with photos of Bob the dog. That gave me a small pleasure. Then I put on a gag t-shirt that my son Alan had given me for my birthday. It has something about “Vintage” something or another, “Mostly Original Parts,” and the date, 1938, of my birth. That too gave me a little pleasure.

    Those kinds of things are enough for me. 

    One’s little accomplishments of the day are also a source of meaning. I just came back to the house from chainsawing down a small Dogwood tree that had grown too far onto our front porch. That was mildly satisfying. 

    I also receive meaning and satisfaction from writing for Ricochet, getting feedback from my posts, and even being promoted to the Main Feed. (Obviously, it doesn’t take much to give my life meaning.)

    I’m looking forward to a nap with Bob the dog. That will help to give my life meaning. 

    Obviously, I can only speak for myself, but I don’t need anything more to give my life meaning than the pedestrian activities that fill one’s life. 

    I occasionally look back with as bit of satisfaction for accomplishments of the past—but not very often. My life as a teacher is distant and largely forgotten. 

    I really don’t think I need more out of life than what I’ve described here.

    • #2
    • August 8, 2018, at 8:05 AM PDT
    • 11 likes
  3. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn

    KentForrester (View Comment):

    Susan, your question, “What gives your life meaning?” leaves me foundering for an answer.

    I think that’s because when your life has meaning, you don’t question it. However, your post has inspired me to think a little harder about my life than I normally do.

    A wise and beautiful response, @kentforrester. I think many of us may not be able to immediately provide an answer to the question, but we know what the question means and in due course can articulate the answers for ourselves. Yours are sweet and lovely. Thanks.

    • #3
    • August 8, 2018, at 9:06 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  4. Arahant Member

    Is that anything like, “What is best in life?”

    • #4
    • August 8, 2018, at 9:10 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  5. SkipSul Coolidge
    SkipSul Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Guy DeMaupassant wrote a story in the late 1800s. It opens in much the same fashion – a reliable clerk at a reliable firm, who is otherwise practically a nobody there. Only in this story, the clerk, who had thrown himself into his job to the exclusion of all else, never had any family to go home to. His work habits allowed for nothing beyond his job, and his clockwork routine. One warm summer night, after decades of such work, through a moment of absent-mindedness, he finds himself at dusk in a Paris park, far from his flat. Surrounded by young lovers, illumined by the lights of the coffee shops and theaters, his entire lack of any real meaning or connection in his long life crashes in on him, and he likewise ends his life in tragedy.

    • #5
    • August 8, 2018, at 9:47 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  6. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn

    SkipSul (View Comment):
    Surrounded by young lovers, illumined by the lights of the coffee shops and theaters, his entire lack of any real meaning or connection in his long life crashes in on him, and he likewise ends his life in tragedy.

    How sad. I suspect many people lead similar lives today. Instead of work (since the work ethic is dying), they cherish visits to Disney World or buying a new car. But then who am I to judge what gives another person’s life meaning? Good to hear from you <span class="atwho-inserted" contenteditable="false" data-atwho-at-query="@skipsul“>@skipsul.

    • #6
    • August 8, 2018, at 9:53 AM PDT
    • Like
  7. fidelio102 Coolidge

    Discussing the meaning of a life inevitably brings one back to one of the basic texts of all philosophy: the first sentence of Schopenhauer’s The World As Will And Representation.

    “Die Welt ist meine Vorstellung” (my translation: “The world is the world as I see it”. You may see something different. I don’t even know if, were I standing next to Susan Quinn on a fine day, the blue of the sky she perceived would be the same shade of blue I see (not that it matters…)

    So it is with the meaning of life, even in the limited context of your life. Or my life. I gave up searching for a ‘meaning’ to my life years ago. But E., the lady with whom I have shared my life these past six yearswho is less cynical than I and in general a far better person, would doubtless argue that my life has a great deal of meaning (why else would she put up with me?)

    And yet… Meanings must exist. Look at the way cancer has impacted my life. Both parents, two spouses and one close female friend, all taken from me by the disease. I contracted it myself…. and survived. Statistically this makes no sense. All these five people gave me far more than I gave them, but I alone was accorded the privilege of living beyond 70 and have been blessed with a companion to share the time remaining.

    Should I seek a meaning here? 

    • #7
    • August 8, 2018, at 8:42 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  8. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn

    fidelio102 (View Comment):

    And yet… Meanings must exist. Look at the way cancer has impacted my life. Both parents, two spouses and one close female friend, all taken from me by the disease. I contracted it myself…. and survived. Statistically this makes no sense. All these five people gave me far more than I gave them, but I alone was accorded the privilege of living beyond 70 and have been blessed with a companion to share the time remaining.

    Should I seek a meaning here? 

    Dear @fidelio102, I am so very sorry for all the losses you have had to bear. I can’t imagine. I don’t know that any of us can make meaning of the kinds of tragic losses you have had; how do we even begin to understand it? Interesting enough, though, your last sentence describes what I was speaking about: you have the blessing of being alive and having a wonderful companion. I suspect, too, that being a caring companion to her gives your life meaning, doesn’t it? And I’d guess she feels the same way. Thank you for sharing with us in such an intimate way.

    • #8
    • August 9, 2018, at 6:08 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  9. Nancy Spalding Thatcher

    Man’s Search for Meaning is one of the most powerful books I have ever read, and that story was so beautifully written, it made it all so much more clear. 

    Daily, meaning comes from reading and thinking about ideas, and in 1-1/2 weeks it will come from trying to show my students that knowledge is precious and exciting, and worth the effort. when they wander into my office, I try to help them sort out the issues that I did such a bad job of sorting when I was their age. I love my work, and (like the DeMaupassant bank clerk) have given too little of my life to other people, but I do love my daughter and her family. 

    Otherwise, meaning in my life comes from God’s care for me, though I often do not experience His presence. also, the world is so beautiful, and there are so many wonderful books to read and reread… Some days (today?) I am terribly tired, and glad that my people don’t make old bones, but my daughter’s little ones bring so much joy into my life that I am happy to be here a bit longer. being tired does not limit my delight in life. 

    • #9
    • August 9, 2018, at 11:19 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  10. Jim McConnell Member
    Jim McConnell Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    In my own experience, there are two quotations that sum up the answer to Susan’s rhetorical question.

    The first is from the Westminster Shorter Catechism, as follows: 

    “Q: What is the chief end of man? 
    A: Man’s chief end is to glorify God,1 and to enjoy him forever.2

    1. 1 Corinthians 10:31. Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God. 
    2. Psalm 73:24-26. Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel, and afterward receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee. My flesh and my heart faileth: but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever.”

    The second is the famous quote from Pascal:

    “There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of each man which cannot be satisfied by any created thing but only by God the Creator, made know through Jesus Christ.”

    I have been blessed with two beautiful daughters with successful marriages and two thriving grandsons, and a successful professional career doing work that I loved every day. But I do not believe that my life would have been worth living without a daily and personal relationship with God.

    He is our dependable refuge in times of doubt and troubles, and His love endures forever.

    • #10
    • August 9, 2018, at 2:46 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  11. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn

    Jim McConnell (View Comment):

    In my own experience, there are two quotations that sum up the answer to Susan’s rhetorical question.

    The first is from the Westminster Shorter Catechism, as follows:

    “Q: What is the chief end of man?
    A: Man’s chief end is to glorify God,1 and to enjoy him forever.2

    1. 1 Corinthians 10:31. Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.
    2. Psalm 73:24-26. Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel, and afterward receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee. My flesh and my heart faileth: but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever.”

    The second is the famous quote from Pascal:

    “There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of each man which cannot be satisfied by any created thing but only by God the Creator, made know through Jesus Christ.”

    I have been blessed with two beautiful daughters with successful marriages and two thriving grandsons, and a successful professional career doing work that I loved every day. But I do not believe that my life would have been worth living without a daily and personal relationship with God.

    He is our dependable refuge in times of doubt and troubles, and His love endures forever.

    Lovely, Jim. Thanks .

    • #11
    • August 9, 2018, at 3:05 PM PDT
    • Like
  12. Mim526 Member

    I was double majoring in music and education when a professor assigned the class to read and write a paper on “Man’s Search for Meaning”. Until then I’d never heard of Victor Frankl. It was a book that impacted me for life.

    I like to understand motives/circumstances…why people do what they do. After that book, I realized that while many things go into who we are and what we do, in the final analysis it comes down to every sentient adult does what he/she does by choice.

    What I remember most from Frankl’s book is that even in a concentration camp with nothing but misery and degradation, there were those who chose to treat their fellow prisoners as human beings amidst the sub-humanity forced upon them.

    • #12
    • August 10, 2018, at 12:37 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  13. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn

    Mim526 (View Comment):

    I was double majoring in music and education when a professor assigned the class to read and write a paper on “Man’s Search for Meaning”. Until then I’d never heard of Victor Frankl. It was a book that impacted me for life.

    I like to understand motives/circumstances…why people do what they do. After that book, I realized that while many things go into who we are and what we do, in the final analysis it comes down to every sentient adult does what he/she does by choice.

    What I remember most from Frankl’s book is that even in a concentration camp with nothing but misery and degradation, there were those who chose to treat their fellow prisoners as human beings amidst the sub-humanity forced upon them.

    Wonderful. I don’t know a single person who wasn’t deeply moved or whose life wasn’t changed by Frankl’s book. Thanks, @mim526.

    • #13
    • August 10, 2018, at 12:45 PM PDT
    • 1 like

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