They took his home, career, and freedom. His parents, brother, and wife – his entire family except for his sister – were killed in the gas ovens. Frankl spent years in Auschwitz where he was beaten, starved, brutalized, and dehumanized; where he saw his companions die daily. The manuscript he had devoted his life to, pinned all his scholarly hopes on, was found and destroyed.
The suffering and torture inflicted on Frankl are difficult to absorb. Made to compete with other prisoners for scraps of food. Made to work in the snow with no shoes. Forced to watch the random execution of friends at the whim of a guard. Never knowing from one day to the next if he would be forced to shovel out the ashes that had the day before been his friends’ bodies or if he would be part of the ashes.
Gradually, emaciated, naked, humiliated, sick, without reasonable hope of liberation or reunion with loved ones, Frankl began to realize that there was one freedom left to him. He saw how some prisoners, even though they were starving, would offer their bread to others. He saw how some prisoners, though weakened, tried to comfort those even weaker. He came to realize “everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
There, in that camp, Frankl began to make decisions. He chose to cherish the thought of those he loved. He chose to give what help as a doctor he was able to offer to others.
He looked for ways to exercise this freedom. He grew very conscious about making choices: choosing what he would think about, what memories he would dwell on, what words he would speak, how he would say them, what help he would offer, how he would respond to humiliation, how he would walk, how he would hold his head high.
And Frankl’s freedom began to expand. One writer puts it like this: “his guards had more liberty they could leave the camp, walk where they chose, spend what they wanted. But Frankl had more freedom.”
[Story taken from John Ortberg’s book, “When the Game is Over It All Goes Back in the Box,” pp 80-81]
You and I may not be able to control the circumstances we face today, but we can control our attitude. Let’s choose to respond with grace. Let’s choose to love.
Have a great week!