Chapter 256 Man’s Search for Equanimity in Murder and Mayhem
Today, July 20, 2012, all the nation’s eyes are on the murders in a crowded Colorado Movie Theater screening of Director Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Rises. At least 12 people were killed and another 58 wounded when a heavily armed suspect identified as James Holmes, a 24-year-old Aurora resident who had been a doctoral student at the University of Colorado was arrested without putting up a fight at the theater moments after police came and found him in the parking lot. If you are a witness to this, you may throw up your hands in hopelessness.
What can be said about such a man? And so many unanswered questions… For me, it is all about finding meaning in things, mostly positive of course, but nevertheless… even in tragedy. People are assigning blame to so many and saying the killer was inspired by: the movie, the comic character “Joker” or others in the comic strip “Batman”, the NRA, violent video games, The Tea Party, but I liked one comment I read on Yahoo!, “I am going out on a limb here, but maybe he was inspired by crazy.”…
Some senseless actions by senseless people that cause unimaginable human suffering…where do you start to describe such actions? And those looking for reasons may be frustrated. Perhaps we just have to accept that there will be insanity with sanity, evil with the good, ugly with the beauty (as many Taoists and Buddists and Christians say, “Are we to only accept the good and not the bad?”. And then we pray. And then we hope.
I really liked Dr. Viktor Frankl’s (1905-1997) take on human suffering. As many know, Dr. Viktor Frankl’s ideas came from his survival from the Nazi death camps. While paying attention to those who did and those who did not survive (given such an opportunity), he wrote that the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche had it correct when he wrote: “He who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how.” He saw that those who retained hopes of being reunited with loved ones, and those who felt they still had things they needed to do, or those who had great faith in their religion and God, apparently had better chances for survival than those who had lost all hope. On a day like today, many in America and around the world may lose hope. What is the meaning of all this senseless death in Colorado? Dr. Viktor Frankel seemed to have experienced something quite similar in the WWII death camps and come to realize the significance that all life has meaning and must have meaning.
Probably he first encountered serious deprivation being in a situation where he was torn away from his wife and family at the start of the war…and then right after the loss of his manuscript – his life’s work – while his transfer to Auschwitz was happening. He had sewn it into the lining of his coat, but it was taken and destroyed. He spent so many nights in his future endeavoring to recreate it, whenever he had the chance.
Once, he wrote about a poignant moment while on an early morning march to work on laying down tracks for the railroad. A prisoner wondered aloud about the fate of their wives. Dr. Frankl started to think about his own wife, and came to the realization that she was present inside him:
“The salvation of man is through love and in love. I understood how a man who has nothing left in this world still may know bliss, be it only for a brief moment, in the contemplation of his beloved”
He later wrote:
“Meaning is something to discover rather than to invent. It has a reality of its own, independent of our minds. Like an embedded figure or a “magic eye” picture, it is there to be seen, not something created by our imagination. We may not always be able to bring the image — or the meaning — forth, but it is there. It is, he says, “…primarily a perceptual phenomenon. “
I aver that in my own moments of intense suffering where I yearned to search for meaning, it was the need to search for the meaning of my existence that was indeed helped by the intensity of what I went through. It is almost as if my own soul and being were ripped away from reality and I could “feel it” as my pain and loss grew.
But, like Dr. Frankl, throughout my sufferings and my reading of others’ sufferings, those that were given a chance for survival, myself included, who held on to HOPE, a positive future vision, a reunification with their loved ones, and so forth had a much greater chance to survive their ordeals.
For Viktor Frankel, he wrote so interestingly that it would be the meaningfulness which could be found in suffering itself that would intensely strike him (almost in astonishment). He wrote:
“There is also purpose in that life which is almost barren of both creation and enjoyment and which admits of but one possibility of high moral behavior: namely, in man’s attitude to his existence, and existence restricted by external forces…. Without suffering and death human life cannot be complete.”
So perhaps today’s actions in Colorado by a young madman, perhaps just like the actions of Adolf Hitler and those German soldiers ordered into the Nazi Death Camps written about by Dr. Viktor Frankel, cannot ever be understood… but we must just accept them as part of reality. That it happened… There will be deliberation on what if anything we can do to avoid or minimize such occurrences in the future (and some changes may be instituted), but human suffering like that which happened today will always be with us. And we should at least endeavor as a society to find meaningfulness in it…
Dr. Frankl lost his wife, parents, and family except his sister in the war, but after his survival of the death camps in he continued to influence society in a positive manner for many many more years and wrote some very influential books. We can definitely take a chapter from his writing to find some meaning in what happened today.