Each morning when I arise, I check online to see what has transpired overnight. I cringe when I read stories of children who are caged and tear gassed due to the beliefs of an administration which doesn’t care that their asylum-seeking parents are attempting to escape terrorism and poverty in their own country. Desperation on the part of these families is evident; otherwise, why would they trek thousands of miles in harsh conditions, with little food and water, facing the likelihood that they would be turned away at the border?
I shudder when I see postings on social media about increasing homegrown terrorism that far out-shadows that which had arrived on American soil from other countries. My stomach churns when I hear about gun violence, homophobia, transphobia, sexism, racism, and xenophobia. What is more confounding is that there are people who daily give these activities and values a hearty two thumbs up.
I wonder how I can maintain emotional equilibrium and a sense of happiness when this chaos is swirling about. Is it callous to laugh when others are sobbing? Can I do so sans guilt?
The Atlantic published an article entitled There’s More to Life Than Being Happy. In it, author Emily Esfahani Smith quotes psychiatrist and humanitarian Viktor Frankl, whose revolutionary book, Man’s Search For Meaning, informed generations about “the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” This is an individual who endured horrific conditions in concentration camps and lost all of his family members in the Holocaust. He knew people who decided to die as soon as they walked through the gates and others who chose to live as fully as they could in the most unthinkable surroundings.
Once the camps were liberated, he wrote the book and it reinforced the belief in goodness in the midst of evil, and affirmed, “We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing, the last of the human freedoms– to choose one’s attitudes in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s way.”
That gives me hope in the possibility of redemption in even the direst of circumstances. It also reminds me that I am better able to offer symbolic bread that provides solace if my cupboards are full. I fill them up by spending time with kindred spirits, by attending rallies and vigils, by writing about peace and social justice issues, with meditation, prayer, and exercise. I engage with nature and animals. I laugh and play with children and refresh my own sense of innocence.
It is then that I remember too that ‘happiness runs in a circular motion,’ and that when I am happy, I am a greater force for good in the world.
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