A warning: this edition isn’t an easy one, but the past few weeks have been pretty difficult too.
The past few weeks have left me numb and very much in need of comfort. I imagine many of you have felt the same. I’ve also needed more than headline updates and calls for awareness; I've needed wisdom. I started reading Viktor Frankl’s “Man’s Search for Meaning”
. I can only say this: Read this book if you haven’t already. It has done a remarkable job of helping me make signals of the deafening noise. Here is the moment that grabbed me, as it has many others, the moment when enduring all but unbearable pain, Frankl thinks of his wife:
"A thought transfixed me: for the first time in my life I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers. The truth – that love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which Man can aspire. Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: 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. In a position of utter desolation, when Man cannot express himself in positive action, when his only achievement may consist in enduring his sufferings in the right way – an honorable way – in such a position Man can, through loving contemplation of the image he carries of his beloved, achieve fulfillment. For the first time in my life I was able to understand the meaning of the words, 'The angels are lost in perpetual contemplation of an infinite glory.'"
Frankl lost his wife, his mother, his father and his brother in the Holocaust.
I was reluctant to read Frankl even as I knew I must. I feared reading about the darkness Frankl had experienced while I was processing current events. (If you’ve followed this newsletter for a while now, you know how I feel about fear. I’m not a fan.) Nevertheless, I knew I needed to take the darkness of the past and shine its bright light on the present. I needed to make a connection to a prior generation and bring more good forward into my own times.
“... there is a hunger that young people have, to be claimed, to be a part of an intergenerational — a trans-generational experience, to know people, because without knowing another generation, they feel incomplete, just like I feel incomplete without knowing younger people. And so we are incomplete without knowing each other.”
"Some lines became classics, like the one about a restaurant waitress in the segregated South who told him, 'We don’t serve colored people here,' to which Mr. Gregory replied: 'That’s all right, I don’t eat colored people. Just bring me a whole fried chicken.' Lunch-counter sit-ins, central to the early civil rights protests, did not always work out as planned. 'I sat in at a lunch counter for nine months,' he said. 'When they finally integrated, they didn’t have what I wanted.’"
In light of the past few weeks, I’ve wondered how we can best pass opportunities and responsibilities from generation to generation. How do we, with every successive generation keep more of the good, the light and the love and less of the bad, the darkness and the hate? That happens naturally for many of us, as we leave home behind for school or careers. Our parents’ influence wanes as we get older, and we start to see our opportunities and responsibilities differently than they did. Our peers from other areas bring different experiences and influence us to see the world in new ways. However, both older and younger generations are slipping into increasingly small echo chambers online. These chambers, as Leah Finnegan writes for The Outline, are leaving many of us worse for wear
"As always, follow your soul as you see fit. But it’s important to examine how certain things influence the way you follow your soul because they are infecting your soul with poison and making you do poisonous things, like getting caught in the vast echo chamber of internet self-seriousness.”
This week, on Monday, the sun will be obscured by the moon, and (with protective eyewear, please!
) many of us will gaze at a temporarily darkened sky. We’ll see something rare — something that will shock many of us into silence. We’ll be confronted with our diminutiveness relative to the universe. We’ll still know, rationally, that this phenomenon is merely caused by the movement of bodies in space — bodies we track very closely and have studied for years now. We have learned, passed on information from one generation to the next. Tomorrow, those who have dedicated themselves to the task, will continue to study the sun and the moon, and will (hopefully) learn even more.
If we continue to connect with one another and learn from past tragedies and phenomena, we will grow, we will take more of the good and less of the bad, we will find meaning and, in so doing, we will laugh, love and endure.