Up unto that point heroes were brightly colored comic book ideals or guys like Dirty Harry and Rambo—they didn’t exist in my world. Besides, who would want to save me? I’d been charged with capital murder. Heroes don’t save the bad guys, they vanquish them. I knew this even as my mind danced around the idea, wring its hands and wailing ‘How has this happened?’. Suicide was an easy choice balanced against that question.
I was so confused and miserable the best I could hope for out of the heavy psych meds was just enough emptiness to read this book. It would be my last before they took me to the doctor in a few days to get the broken cast on my wrist replaced. When I tried to escape there was no doubt the deputy would open fire. Problem solved.
Except I began reading this book . . .
“The way in which a man accepts his fate and all the suffering it entails, the way in which he takes up his cross, gives him ample opportunity—even under the most difficult circumstances—to add deeper meaning to his life. It may remain brave, dignified and unselfish. Or in the bitter fight for self-preservation he may forget his human dignity and become no more than an animal.” (p. 67)
I sat down and read and jotted down lines from the book as Frankl’s voice echoed in the emptiness. It was a clarion call to action. A challenge. You’re miserable? So what. Buck up and give meaning to the rest of your life. Fight because it’s hard. The circumstance will never get more difficult than the utter isolation of a cell and capital murder trial. I had nothing else.
“When a man finds that it is his destiny to suffer, he will have to accept his suffering as his task; his single and unique task. He will have to acknowledge the fact that even in suffering he is unique and alone in the universe. No one can relieve him of his suffering or suffer in his place. His unique opportunity lies in the way in which he bears his burden.” (p. 78)
Frankl survived multiple concentration camps where millions of Jews were immediately put to death for their religion. He administered to his fellow captives providing comfort, advice and reassurance there was purpose in their suffering. He lived in spite of the Nazis. In spite of the culling pogroms. Frankl survived by accepting fate and finding the nobility of purpose. He took the world’s biggest toilet bowl of excrement and found a way to remark upon the design of the wall paper rather than bemoan the smell. How could I do such a phenomenal thing?
The deputies took me to a doctor’s office on the outer edge of town. Located in a strip mall, the driver parked the van in an empty lot and went inside while his partner stood with me. Even shackled hand and foot I could shuffle fast enough . . .The remaining deputy grew distracted with something in the van and I stood alone in the parking lot, smelling freedom from a nearby pastry shop. It turned my empty stomach, having not eaten anything in days. I took a few steps away from the van and saw a patch of woods behind the strip mall. Then I saw the deputy’s pistol jutting from the hip holster. Beckoning like the pastry shop. It would be over quickly.
I paused a very long time. Long enough for the sunlight to shift behind some clouds. Then the moment was gone as the deputy swore and slammed the door. “Stupid paperwork’s back at the jail. Come on.” As he escorted me into the doctor’s office a phrase rolled around in the emptiness. IT stopped me from running or grabbing the gun. It took root and grew, and in that moment I knew Frankl had saved me.
“Man is not fully conditioned and determined but rather determines himself whether he gives into conditions or stands up to them. In other words, man is ultimately self-determining. Man does not simply exist but always decides what his existence will be, what he will become in the next moment. By the same token, every human being has the freedom to change at any instant.” (p. 131)