He who has a “why” to life can bear almost any “how”. – Friedrich Nietzsche
In this time of giving and gratitude we are also looking at a time that we have been calling “unprecedented”. A time of quarantine, “social distance”, school closures/re-openings, the reorientation of home to work and work to home, the uncertainty of one’s health – of a loved one’s health, the fear of the unknown and unseen, political tension, social tension, COVID numbers going up, hospital bed openings going down, visiting family for the holiday or staying home, it all seems too much. When I feel overwhelmed by the pressures of life I consider where I first heard the quote above by Nietzsche.
I came across this quote while reading Viktor Frankl’s book Man’s Search for Meaning. I will admit, this is not a book you take to the beach to while away the hours. This book, as the title portends, is a journey deep inside the reader’s heart. As this blog is not a “book review” I will not go into much more detail about the book (except to say that I feel everyone should read it). I will point out, however, that as “tough” as we feel we have it now, Mr. Frankl survived Nazi concentration camps and all that was associated with them- death, starvation, hard work, abuse, illness, heartbreak and weariness. How did he, how did they (those who did) push through?! That has long been my question. How do people look at all that is hard/painful in the world and keep going?
Mr. Nietzsche and Mr. Frankl believe that it is because those resilient souls have a “why”. What does that mean? I have to survive to see my wife, my children, my parents, my grandchildren, healthy, freedom, equality, love. That is the why. Everyone’s is different, unique to that person. Each person’s “why” drives them to do better and to be better. “How” do they push though? BECAUSE they have a “WHY”!
Often, as my children were growing up, I thought, “How will we get past this stage?” Staying up all night, making a mess, saying “no” to everything – school, homework, adolescence, their own moving into parenthood and my position changing. Until now, I have not realized that it wasn’t “how” I got through it that mattered, it was “why”. Pushing through the late nights so that my child would know my commitment, that I would be by her bed when she called for me… no matter what. Wiping up another bowl of whatever while grumbling about my clean floor so she would know I would be there to help bring back order to chaos. Hearing “no” for the gazillionth time so she would know she has a voice and an opinion that is heard. Helping her navigate the larger community in school with new friends to make and new adults to trust – helping her find her place in the lager community. Doing homework with her that I had to admit I didn’t know, to show her my fallibility and that even I had to ask for help. Adolescents watching as she moved further away, but knowing the small lessons of commitment, consistency, validation, empowerment and vulnerability were gifts I gave her to use when she was away from me. She now is a mother and as the grandmother, I get to sit back and watch as she provides these gifts to her children.
Now please, do not see this reflection as me being the perfect mother and/or my daughters being the perfect children…. That is far from the truth. What we are is complementary. The reflections above are those of a grandma that can look back… not the mom who was in the trenches cleaning up more food on the floor. In those times I remember thinking, “How will I survive until they’re grown?” Now that they are grown I realize it is not “how” I survived, it’s “why” I survived. To see them be the loving, kind, strong moms I always prayed they would be. So in this, the most bizarre, holiday season in recent memory, take a moment to consider the “why” in your life and I am certain it will be the reason you use in years to come to explain *how* you pushed through 2020.