I am also currently reading, Man's Search For Meaning by Viktor Frankl, published in 1959. Frankl, one of the twentieth century's great psychiatrists, survived the Nazi concentration camps at Auschwitz, Dachau, and Turkheim. He writes about his experience, as well as the experience of his fellow survivors, and the common thread that helped them survive the brutal, dehumanizing environment: they all held on strongly to a reason to live, a meaning to their lives more significant than their own immediate pain. Though completely unrelated in plot, the movie and this book both guide my thinking in the same direction. Suffering is not something to hide, not something degrading, but rather ennobling.
Through my own experience of suffering, I learned to ignore the attempts of others to explain away my suffering. I do not discount the well intentions behind these explanations, but find them to be useless and aggravating. I firmly reject there is a reason for my suffering or a master plan at work. Because, for me, in order to believe this, then I must believe there was and is the option to find the cause of it and stop it. And to believe I do not deserve or am not chosen to receive this cessation or relief, makes the suffering masochistic, rather than a normal, albeit difficult to accept, part of the human condition. I believe everyone suffers at some point. Some much greater than others, but the feeling of suffering does not have a hierarchy. It just happens without explanation or reason. I feel this is hard to accept because as a human, I too, feel the need to control or to have power to manipulate or predict my fate. I do not have this power and have given up the search for the reasons why bad things happen. To me, this search is useless and futile.
However, I do find the search for the meaning of life to be of great value. When I was first paralyzed I allowed my broken back to break me. I attempted to hide my suffering, to be successful in spite of my pain. I thought of it as a scar on my life, rather than a medal of honor. I trudged on secretly carrying the weight of my burdens and pretending I was happy. I listened as I heard I was a lesson for people, there was a reason behind my suffering, something greater at work. And listening to this only made me more angry and more resentful. Why weren't those around me lessons or greater plans at work? Why did I have to be this example? Why wasn't my life, my choice as important as the next persons? Why was my life dictated for me? It took me a long time to discover my accident was just that, an accident. I didn't have a choice as to whether or not it happened. It was not a lesson for others or a lesson I needed or deserved to learn. And my choices were and are important and I do have them. My choice, as far as my suffering, is how I respond to it. And though I do not believe disabled people are here to teach lessons for others, our lives are our own lives to live, I do believe my disability enhanced my ability to help others and find the meaning of my own life. I also believe I would have eventually discovered this without my paralysis.
Finding the silver linings in situations, finding meaning to my life other than my own vanity and desires, is the great epic of life. I take my suffering, which is forever a part of me, and learn to live with it and honor it. I learn to forgive, to accept, and to love. I learn it is far better to be kind than to be right. I learn to look for the good, rather than the bad, but also to love the bad as part of the good. I learn to love the entire person, including myself. I can not explain away or justify suffering, it just is. Therefore, my pain is not the meaning of my life, nor is it my purpose in life. Rather, my response to it, and all other uncontrollable events in my life, is where I find meaning and purpose. Instead of trying to stop the pain or cast it aside and pretend it doesn't happen, I can decide to transcend the hurt. I make the best of my situation and, at the same time, discover the true meaning of my life which is to triumph over my anger, frustration, resentment, suffering, and hatred using empathy, compassion, forgiveness, and love. This triumph is my true silver lining, the meaning of my life, my master plan.
And as Viktor Frankl so clearly states, "...there are three main avenues on which one arrives at meaning in life. The first is by creating a work or by doing a deed. The second is by experiencing something or encountering someone; in other words, meaning can be found not only in work but also in love...Most important, however, is the third avenue to meaning in life: even the helpless victim of a hopeless situation, facing a fate he cannot change, may rise above himself, may grow beyond himself, and by so doing change himself. He may turn a personal tragedy into a triumph."