Updated: Aug 15, 2022
I remember the moment I gave up all hope. It was in early November, 2020. A month earlier, a perfect storm hit my life and I had been fighting tooth and nail to keep on living. But try as I may, I was consistently confronted with my powerlessness and helplessness. I could find no way to make things better. I could think of no intervention anyone could do to improve current events, even if slightly. After a month of giving it my all and coming up empty, my inner light went out. As Viktor Frankl says in Man’s Search for Meaning, reflecting on the reason of the numerous daily deaths in the Nazi concentration camps:
"He talked about the many comrades who had died in the last few days, either of sickness or of suicide. But he also mentioned the real reason for their deaths: giving up hope.”
Despite there being epidemic breakouts, immensely inhumane labourous efforts, starvation, and a myriad of physical reasons that should lead to death, Viktor Frankl and some of his comrades still believed that the dealbreaker—that circumstance that gives the soul a green light to pass away—was that of losing hope. Throughout this chapter, Frankl revisits the concept of hope and staying alive countless times, and last night, it finally made sense to me.
Throughout my life, no matter how difficult life got, I never—to the best I can recall—gave up hope. However, this time, life knocked me down harder than I ever imagined. I struggled to find a reason to live. I could not see that I mattered. I was not able to help those I love. I was not able to help myself. Why am I alive? What am I doing with my life? What is the point of doing anything if I am so powerless when it comes to things that actually matter? I would try to negotiate with myself, and tell myself that even a simple smile could change someone’s day (including my own). But what is a day in the larger scheme of things—in a life that has turned upside down? I started to let things go. Do I—helpless, powerless and unable to make any change—uniquely matter?
These questions never left me, and I could not find answers to them. The frequency and depths of my calls to my family decreased, because I believed they I am but a number on this planet in people’s lives. So, my logic told me that a call from anyone was good enough for them. I lost sight of my impact in my friends' lives. Overwhelmed and shocked by how insignificant my actions are—in a very tangible way—I started to lose faith in any kind of weight I had. These realizations did not happen in a conscious way, but rather in a slow way—the way your accent slightly changes when you live in a foreign country for a few years. Today, as I reflect on my behaviour, I can clearly see how these perceptions unfolded.
Throughout my episode, I have been searching for a new goal for my life, for a new meaning of life; trying to restore that hope and tenacity that many of you have caught glimpses of while you’ve known past versions of myself. Sometimes I would tell myself that my goal could be temporary: to make the most of where I am and the circumstances I am living under today. That made sense to my logical mind, but it did not click—my soul could not internalize it. Last night, it hit home when I read this short paragraph in Frankl’s book:
“When the impossibility of replacing a person is realized, it allows the responsibility which a man has for his existence and its continuance to appear in all its magnitude. A man who becomes conscious of the responsibility he bears toward a human being who affectionately waits for him, or to an unfinished work, will never be able to throw away his life.”
I am starting to wrap my head around this.
I see myself as a very proactive person. Action-oriented. Problem-solver. Pragmatic. I associate a lot of value to action. So, when faced with a myriad of struggles, and wracking my head for a solution, grasping at straws, but never ceasing to come up blank, I just didn’t know what to do. What I knew of my self and life no longer stood. So, I understand how this led me to giving up hope and losing all sight and perspective.
Frankl, and Caroline McHugh in her honest and inspiring TEDx Talk, tell us that what really matters is not what we expect from life, but rather what life expects from us. And I agree. And I do not know any answer other than Love. To portray love in any situation we are. And by love I do not refer to the romantic kind of love. I mean calling onto the soul within me to interact with the soul within you with acceptance, kindness, honesty, and possibly humour. And this exceptionally difficult when you’re at rock bottom, and I probably failed to do so many times these past twenty-one months, but I still do not know of another answer.
Ultimately, I am still in search for hope and meaning in my life and love in my soul. I am still grappling with the question of: What is the point of my working in the larger scheme of things? Does it really make a difference? The world keeps spinning regardless, whether it is me who is doing my work or someone else. Aren't I replaceable? What about my replaceability in people’s lives? And I struggle to reconcile the concept of irreplaceability with the fact that life moves on—always. How can both ideas stand true? I do not know, but I know that it somehow rings faintly true to me, so I hope I understand and internalize this soon…
Photo: There’s a lot of love in this photo, even though some of us don’t speak the same language ♡.