Sometimes BoomerCafé focuses on the practical aspects of a baby boomer’s life … and sometimes we look at the philosophical side. Author and executive coach Reiner Lomb has gone in that direction with this piece about a lesson learned from his father, who taught Reiner that We Shall Overcome By Finding Meaning.
I will never forget the image of my father’s body lying peacefully in his casket. His face was pale and the remaining hair on his head was snow white. I could still feel the presence of his spirit, a spirit that carried him through life and made him what he was: a man who never gave up no matter what. At that moment, I asked myself, “What was the secret of my father’s life? What was the source of his will power, his determination and his energy?”
I recalled my father giving a very simple answer to these questions more than 20 years earlier, when I was still a teenager. We were sitting side-by-side at my family’s Christmas Eve dinner when I said, “Father, there is no God.”
I had expected my declaration to provoke a strong response, but my father only gazed gently into my eyes and said, “Son, I told you all about how I survived as a prisoner of war, when many others gave up and died. There is only one reason why I did not give up: God.”
At that moment, I felt ashamed for having tried to take God away from my father, the very reason that gave him the will to survive the most hopeless circumstances. This was one of the most important lessons I had ever learned in my life. It made me realize how our souls long for meaning and purpose, for a reason to live. My father taught me that if we find purpose or meaning in our lives, it empowers us to overcome great adversity, to have a more optimistic outlook and to flourish in life.
Reiner’s book – The Boomerang Approach – is available at Amazon.com.
This insight was reiterated by Viktor Frankl, a psychologist and survivor of the Nazi concentration camps, who wrote: “Man’s search for meaning is the primary motivation in his life.” Frankl had observed in the camps that while a person cannot always avoid suffering, he can choose how to respond to it. By finding meaning, even in the most challenging circumstances, he can gain the willpower to overcome adversity. Viktor Frankl himself surviving the Holocaust is a prime example of that.
Viktor Frankl, and my father too, found meaning through suffering, but Frankl emphasizes in his book, Man’s Search For Meaning, that suffering is not the only way to find meaning. He suggests that meaning can also be found through the experience of love and through the work somebody creates. While he describes in detail how one can find meaning through suffering as well as through love, he only briefly touches on how one can find meaning in work when he states, “Everyone has (to find) his or her own specific vocation or mission in life …”