During college, I read a book called A Man’s Search For Meaning, by Viktor Frankl. The book is from 1946 and was written after Frankl, an Austrian psychiatrist, survived 4 concentration camps during World War II.
While in the concentration camp, he began to observe people’s behaviour, caught in an absolutely devastating and inhumane situation. In the camps, people found themselves in the freezing weather without appropriate clothing, doing hard work, eating very little food, and being victims of physical and psychological aggression every day. Many started to die, not only of malnutrition and physical abuse but also committing suicide. The odds of surviving were extremely remote.
Over time, he observed that, among those who were able to survive, there was a common trait. Frankl realized that the only freedom he still had been to decide how to react to the situation. In the midst of so much suffering, there were people who found things they could hold on to. A dream of playing the piano again, a place they would like to visit, a person to hopefully meet after the war. And that little hope became a ray of light.
A few years ago, I went to the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam. After spending 2 years in hiding in a house with 7 more people, Anne and her family were sent to a concentration camp in 1944. As men were separated from women, Anne had no further news from her father. Her sister and mother died, so her last hope was to find her father again.
During my visit, I thought about Frankl’s book a lot. At the end, there is a video of her friend, Hanneli Goslar, available at the bottom of this page. She says that Anne gave up living when she started to believe that her father had died. As Hanneli said, “She had no reason to live anymore.” Anne died after 6 months in the camp, just 2 months before the war ended and the prisoners were released. The most tragic thing is that her father did, in fact, survive and turned her diary into a book, which made her story famous worldwide.
Other Stories of Survival
There are other groups who survived disasters that give similar reports. In 2010, 33 Chilean miners were trapped inside a mine for more than 2 months in 2010. And in 1972, a plane crashed in the Andes, with 45 people on board. The 16 survivors, in addition to the cold, went through unimaginable suffering, where they even had to eat the flesh of their dead colleagues. These people also reported the importance of not giving up, creating a routine and maintaining positive thinking. One, of them, Roberto Canessa says that
“I discovered that you can always be worse off,” said Canessa. “And that what matters is not how you do things, but why.”Roberto Canessa, survivor of the 1972 Andes plane crash
Coping with your feelings
We are all experiencing a tragedy unprecedented in the world. The uncertainty, the suffering, the tension, the fear, the vulnerability of the poorest and risk groups. Not everyone reacts to this type of situation in the same way. There are days when you will feel bad, and it is OK.
We brought these reports here so that you know, with all the certainty of the world, that the pandemic WILL PASS. Better days will come and you ARE bigger and stronger than this crisis. Try to radiate a little light into your life with that certainty. What would you like to do when the crisis is over? What dreams do you have? How can you rebuild life? Who would you like to meet, where would you like to go?
It hurts, and everything is fine. Let’s cry together. Let’s help those in need together. But what if we smiled and dreamed together too? After all, as Frankl said,
“When we can no longer change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves”.