“… it did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us.” — Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning
We’re six months into the COVID-19 crisis. It seems like the world has gone insane in that time. I don’t know about you, but I have days where I want to give up on other human beings, move to the middle of nowhere, and put up a barbed-wire fence.
Mostly when I’m feeling down about things, I can remind myself that I’ve been through worse, or that others currently have it worse — and that’s enough to give me the right perspective and snap out of the doldrums.
This time in history feels especially scary because we don’t know what’s going to happen, when this situation is going to end … or if it ever will end. While I would normally look to the past to inform the present, this firestorm is unique in history. Yes, the 1918 flu epidemic killed 675,000 Americans and 50 million people worldwide (though no one alive today remembers it, and very little of the experience was documented or shared). But along with the coronavirus pandemic, we’re also experiencing massive social upheaval and a unique economic collapse. I say “unique” because this economic collapse is unlike anything that’s happened before — not because the math is different, but because our economy is different. Unlike during the Depression, our economy here in the U.S. today is heavily influenced by technology and knowledge work. That means certain segments are feeling the pain much more than others. It’s a lopsided economic collapse, and the first of its kind.
So while I can pull myself out of a funk by giving myself a dose of perspective, I’ve had a hard time embracing our current situation as the new norm that it likely is. I think most people have had this trouble, actually. We’re all just holding our breath, waiting for this to end.
I found the above quote from Viktor Frankl this morning and it hit me like a ton of bricks. “… it did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us.” Is that the key? Is that the perspective shift we need to move through this time in history without going bananas?
No matter how bad you or I might have it right now, Frankl was in a way worse situation than any of us are. He was imprisoned in a concentration camp during the Holocaust. His entire family was put to death by Nazis. He witnessed horrors we can’t imagine, and he barely survived to tell his story.
What does life expect from us right now? What we expect has no meaning — this virus will have its way no matter what we expect.
Frankl goes on to write, “These tasks, and therefore the meaning of life, differ from man to man, and from moment to moment.” We have tasks ahead of us, and they don’t involve curling up in a ball and giving up (tempting though that may be).
My task right now is to keep writing. No matter how hard it is to do some days. This is how I process, how I cope, how I communicate and share — and it’s the legacy I’m leaving for my children.
What does life expect from us? It expects us to press on.