Coming from someone who usually gets antsy after an extended weekend at home, I’m really enjoying the stay at the home mandated. Here are three reasons why I am enjoying the mandate:
- Man’s search for meaning
As you make your summer reading list, at the top should be Viktor Frankl’s “Man’s Search for Meaning.” I don’t care how tough these crazy times may seem, all troubles melt away even after just the first few chapters of this autobiography from the Nazi concentration camp. And yes, yes you’ve probably watched/read the movie/book, “Schindler’s List.” But there’s something special in having the first-person account come from a psychiatrist and neurologist.
He says, “No matter the circumstance, you always have the last of human freedoms: to choose your attitude.” Complaints that the food from my favorite restaurant isn’t as yummy when delivered less than hot all disappear when you read about eating just one meal under 900 calories per day for years even while doing hard labor day in and day out at Auschwitz.
Which online retail store is having a blowout sale to avoid filing Chapter 11 is also less attention-grabbing when you read that at concentration camps people wore the same clothes for months until the fabric disintegrated in the freezing snow. Each chapter of the book is like a coat of perspective painted over current reality: you get to see each circumstance but with a different color, for sure.
If Frankl weren’t enough, take a look at Richard Wurmbrand, who died not too long ago and not too far from here in California. You might remember from the movie “Shawshank Redemption” that solitary confinement is usually reserved for the worst punishment that you can get, usually doled out one or two days at a time. The UN imposes a maximum of 15 days for solitary punishment.
Can you guess how long Wurmbrand spent in solitary confinement? (No fair in Googling for the answer). Try 3 years….three…whole…years of complete and utter silence, in a cell 12 feet underground — no windows, no lights, no sound (prison guards wore soft felt on the bottom of their shoes), for three years. The only way Wurmbrand didn’t go nuts was by delivering sermons to himself each day.
He was imprisoned for his religious beliefs. When he was released, he wasted no time in getting back to his religious work, to be arrested again, and tortured unspeakable horrors. Inquiring minds want to know, “How did he do that?!” Not once but over and over again?
Some of my friends on Zoom are antsy with cabin fever just from being home in the last couple of months. I may not be my brothers’ biggest fan, but I am glad to have a family with me at home. Even though I’d like to have my own room, I wouldn’t want to be completely by myself indefinitely, especially if it means being without any sound or sunlight!
People like Frankl and Wurmbrand who tenaciously held on to meaning and life are even a greater wonder this day and age when the CDC reports that suicide rates are on the rise and the second leading cause of death for people 10-34 years old.
Young people are giving up not only the fight for their lives but also their search for meaning when they commit suicide. It makes me wonder how many people around us are on the brink of giving up entirely and walking around like half-dead zombies.
- Peace … from Humility
“Suffering ceases to be suffering when you find meaning,” is another of Frankl’s quotes. A little known fact is the ability to derive meaning from even the most trivial inconveniences by offering it up in prayer united to Christ’s sufferings. Thinking about St. Therese of Lisieux who used to break out in cold sweat from someone making noises sitting next to her helps me from throwing something at somebody with a knack for getting under my skin. Every little annoying noise or distraction all of a sudden earns grace and meaning. And peace ensues.
Another life-changer is offering up uncertainty and anxiety. These are uncertain times for sure with record unemployment, racism, police brutality, and all kinds of doom and gloom in the press. Every headline and source of angst — especially world affairs beyond my direct control — offered up into God’s providence and mercy produce lasting peace. The more often the negative thoughts creep in the better because I’m ready to bat them away each and every time for an inner serenity home run.
- Meditation that’s worth it
I tell you what hasn’t worked during the lockdown for calm. There are all these so called meditation apps where you’re contemplating nothingness or emptying yourself. There’s one that’s even called Calm.
But if you’re meditating on nothing, don’t you essentially end up getting nothing? I don’t want to grasp at anything, especially when I can reach instead for God. Check out Chad Ripperger on YouTube for steps to start meditation just by being consistent 15 minutes per day. You can just grab a line from the daily liturgy and immerse yourself in the Gospel scene, at Jesus’ feet like Mary. 15 minutes a day will change your life, I promise.
Last relevant Frankl quote for the day. Are you ready? “Self-actualization is only possible through self-transcendence.” I find that I get distracted from prayer when I’m still fuming about my brother raiding my stuff, and it’s best if I just clear the air with him before trying again. Any attachment to my ego or self-centeredness keeps me from trying to fill me up with God’s truth and beauty. It makes sense – if my thoughts and heart are full of what I feel like and what I want, then there’s no room left for God.
That’s it. Those are the top 3 things I wanted to share. Regardless of where you are in this Stay at Home Mandate, I’m willing to bet that it’s better than how Frankl and Wurmbrand had it. And I’m pretty sure that this lockdown isn’t going to last years for us. Lucky for you and me we have our life, we have our health, and we can grasp for meaning. Do give the 3 things a try. Who knows? It might change your life.