“Detachment forward march!” the guard’s rough voice shouted. The prisoners stumbled across the frozen ground. Those with feet too sore to walk held unto their neighbor’s arm to keep from falling.
“Left, 2, 3, 4! Left, 2, 3, 4! Left, 2, 3, 4!” Stiffly the prisoners stumbled along.
“If our wives could see us now,” the man next to Dr. Frankl whispered suddenly. “I do hope they’re better off in their camps and don’t know what’s happening to us.”
Dr. Frankl began thinking of his own wife. They stumbled on for miles, slipping on occasional ice spots and holding each other up. Nothing more was said but they each knew the other was thinking of his wife. Frankl noticed the stars were fading. The easern sky turned pink as morning dawned.
Dr. Frankl determinedly clung to his wife’s image. He answered a question she asked and saw her smile. Her expression was frank and encouraging. She seemed real enough to touch.
The strength of Attitude Frankl got from thinking of his wife during hard, discouraging times reflected in the strength I got from remembering Cheryl during the therapy sessions following my crash.
Cheryl and I knew of each other for several years before my crash, but we didn’t really know each other until we began dating a few months before my crash. Things moved along fairly quickly and we became engaged. I don’t remember how long this happened before my crash, not long. More relevant to my purpose in telling this story now is the fact that I do remember how my thoughts of her strengthened my efforts not only during my therapy sessions, but during many of the challenges I faced during my initial integration back into society.
As Dr. Frankl marched down that icy dirt road, neither the freezing temperature nor the guard’s harsh commands could extinguish the reality of his wife’s image that he held in his mind. This is when he began to realize the truth that is written of by so many poets. “The truth— that love is the highest goal to which man can aspire.”
“Stop!” the guard commanded. They had arrived at their work site.
The prisoners scrambled to pick out the most usable spade or pickaxe from a nearby hut. Soon they worked side by side back in the ditch they’d been working in the day before. “They worked silently, their brains numb.”
Dr. Frankl had no way of knowing whether his wife was even alive, but somehow choosing to hold her in his mind gave him strength. He goes on to observe that “Love goes very far beyond the physical person of the beloved. It finds its deepest meaning in his spiritual being, his inner self. Whether or not he is actually present or even alive ceases somehow to be important.”
Holding unto the strength derived from even an absent loved one is an illustration of the power of the Attitude one chooses to hold. The Attitude one chooses to have toward even inanimate objects can strengthen or weaken one’s spirit. Dr. Frankl goes on to tell how, upon finding their external circumstances completely unacceptable; many prisoners cultivated their internal realities. “They began to appreciate the beauty of art and nature as never before.”
Sometimes a fellow prisoner would point out a beautiful sunset to one working beside him. Dr. Frankl recalls a time when a prisoner roused his bunkmates from their rest to come out to a field and view an exceptionally beautiful sunset.
To me, because of my experience gaining strength of Attitude from the memories of Cheryl’s warm kisses and gentle, encouraging words, it comes as no surprise that memories of his wife gave Dr. Frankl Attitudinal strength during his time locked in a concentration camp. What I found equally interesting was his description of the cabaret that a hut would be turned into for an open mic type of evening’s entertainment.
The prisoners, who didn’t have to march miles the next morning to a distant work site, came together “to have a few laughs, perhaps cry a little; anyway, to forget. There were poems, songs, jokes, some with underlying satire regarding the camp. All were meant to help us forget, and they did help ( i.e. Strengthen our Attitudes.)”
Dr. Frankl says these events were so efficient in lifting their spirits that sometimes a prisoner would miss his daily portion of food to attend.
For a prisoner, in those scantily supplied circumstances, to exchange a whole day’s food supply for a brief period of humor and fellowship is a sure sign of the importance of nurturing one’s Attitude.