One of the things I love about reading old books is the insight I gain to the people of the day. The language, customs and internal thoughts are fascinating to me. Edith Wharton’s fiction, as a prime example, was so good at painting the scene and feel of the time that I could easily find myself inside of the story and relating to the protagonist with ease. But it isn’t just for the love of being swept away to another time that I love—although I do—it’s finding so much of myself, of us, in the pages.
Sometimes, this can be dismaying. When you read a lot of historical work, you can’t help but notice the patterns. “History repeats itself” is another one of those phrases thrown around so cheaply that we don’t really grasp the truth in it. It can be hard to digest the fact that we are still making the same mistakes, marginalizing the same people as we did one hundred, five hundred years ago and more. We make strides in important areas, but the same damn drum always starts beating again.
This is the sort of thing that usually puts me in a funk that turns into depression. I observe the state of the world and the things that have perpetuated throughout history, and my brain extrapolates from there, typically all the way down to a negative and definitive end. Sometimes just to a terrible dystopia. Then I feel empty and hopeless, and wonder what the point of this life even is.
Enter Viktor Frankl. His book, Man’s Search for Meaning is one I read recently and found myself in its pages. Frankl was a neurologist and psychiatrist who survived several Nazi concentration camps and wrote about it in the first part of this book. The second part is where he goes into Logotherapy, his own approach to therapy, and talks about the “existential vacuum,” which he observed to be rampant in modern culture. He described it as “a loss of life interests and a lack of initiative and proactiveness, which can lead to deep feelings of meaninglessness.” Me to myself after reading that, “This guy gets it.”
I believe a lot of people are feeling the existential vacuum lately, and it sucks (pun not intended, but it gave me a giggle on the first read-through so I’m keeping it). I first came to know it at around 30 years of age. Once it presents itself, it usually returns and it can drain one of all their joy leaving them feeling like a husk of the person they once were.
But, Frankl proved in the first part of his book that it is possible to find meaning in even the darkest and ugliest of conditions. This is the cornerstone of Logotherapy: Meaning. He also said, “It is well known that humor, more than anything else in the human make-up, can afford an aloofness and an ability to rise above any situation, even if only for a few seconds.” Thankfully, I am very well equipped in this area and can attest that my sense of humor has carried me and my sanity through much.
It occurred to me after reading this book and getting back to writing for Greater Ape that there is hope in the wisdom left in type. Even if not heeded in the day it was written, the chords reverberate through time, and the more times the chord is played, the louder it gets. I think perhaps this is mine to do. Helping to spread good ideas and encourage thought, compassion and introspection as best I can with my own small voice. This is my purpose. My meaning.
Vacuum be damned.