The way people think about things, how a thousand individuals can experience the same event and walk away with a thousand different conclusions, completely fascinates me. It’s probably why I have been seeking out information in self-help books lately. At the moment, I am content with my life. Interestingly, my husband finds the word content to have a somewhat unfulfilled connotation, as if being content means one should still strive to seek out just a little bit more. I tend to use the word as meaning I am happily satisfied and in no need, for the moment, to seek out anything more. But that just encourages this idea of why I am so taken by perspectives and points of view.
I’m not sure that I would resort to a self-help book if I were ever in desperate need for answers on how to endure any hardships or other unfavorable aspects of my life. I have a deep well of contempt for diet and nutrition books and, to be fair, parenting books of all kinds (though I just finished Bringing up Bèbè and found it quite entertaining and enlightening) and I believe there is no such thing as a one-book-fits-all solution, no matter what you’re trying to do for yourself. I simply like the idea of there being so many ideas!
Over the past few weeks, I have been reading a bit more about other people’s struggles, their versions of the meaning of life, how they came to believe certain things about humankind and the world in general, and how to incorporate some of these trains of thought into my everyday life. (Of course, now that I read this sentence back to myself, it sounds like I am contradicting my previous statement about being content and my use of the word. Perhaps my husband and I can simply decide to agree on a middlemost.)
Again, I don’t think there is a one-book-fits-all solution, and that includes books on the meaning of life. But just as I am encouraging my daughter to accept some afterschool instruction to help her improve her art skills, I hold strong to the idea that perspective skills are just as important. If I am never introduced to another’s method of thinking, I may never know how comfortably (or uncomfortably) that method fits into my own.
Take, for example, Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. I tried so hard to get through the first section of this book and I just couldn’t do it. For some reason, I even felt disrespectful for putting the book down, if just to rest my brain from his toggling back and forth from actual events to his professional psychological evaluation of one’s ability to endure hardship and survive, happily. He survived Auschwitz, for cryin’ out loud, and he’s happy and I could not bear to read anymore. I wasn’t put off by his descriptions of life in the camps (in fact, those are what made me want to keep reading) but I was put off by his belief that those who died did so because they lost the will to live.
And I disagree with that. Sometimes, a body just quits. It is likely I missed a particular point in the latter pages of this book that would have tied it all together, but I just couldn’t keep reading. I don’t think I even made it past the thirtieth page. For that, I am sorry. I want to know your story, Mr. Frankl, but perhaps we’ll meet in another way.
I moved on quickly to another book, one that actually seems to be more up my alley. While stacked on my bed’s headboard shelves are a number of non-fiction stories about yellow fever, the Great Influenza of 1918, and a few other books on epidemics (a shining gem featuring cholera is being held at my local library for me as I type this and I’m so excited!) so there is no shortage of morbidity and human suffering happening here, but I did manage to get my hands on an uplifting book called Earthtime Moontime by Annette Hinshaw. It turns out she’s a local celebrity of sorts and was a fervent activist for religious freedom in our neck of the woods (she passed away in 1999 but was a prominent member of the Pagan movement in nearby Tulsa, Okla.). Unfortunately, my borrowing time has been reduced by the pesky but ever-so-helpful interlibrary loan by which the book was acquired. I have only a few weeks to study Hinshaw’s words before returning the book to its rightful home in the Dallas (Texas) library system. (Seriously, the whole state of Oklahoma has not one copy? Shameful.)
I will leave you with this, a blurb from Hinshaw’s book that captured my attention right away: “Once upon a time, there was no time…” Think about that. I’d be utterly lost without a clock but maybe we’d all be more in tune with the seasons and with ourselves. Even with each other? Hmm, thoughts for another time.
But now, says that darned clock, I must go pick up my daughter from her afterschool art instruction that I so feverishly pushed for her to attend. If I learned anything about myself from Hinshaw’s book (which whimsically describes me to a tee based on which moon I was born under in 1976), it is that I must be more assertive in my decisions and accepting of their consequences. Or, as Hinshaw so delicately put it, “you may dissect things into so many pieces that you lose the beauty of the whole…”
Wasn’t I just writing about this a few weeks ago? I’ll promise to write more on this later, if anyone’s interested. And probably even if you aren’t.