"Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul."
. . .
Soon, you will turn the final page on 2013.
Like nearing the end of a book. Twelve chapters long. You've spent ample time feeling its heft. Acquainted yourself with its characters. They have made you laugh. Cry. Learn. and love.
The average American will live through 78 such books in a lifetime. Each one a journey. 2013 has led to this place. Sitting here, reading this. You are left with but a sparse quantity of pages. The end is in sight.
Soon, you will turn the final page. Absorb a final spattering of words. Sense the finality.
Are you saddened by its completion? Become emotionally attached? How was your experience throughout the pages in between?
Finally, you turn the last page. Greeted by a fractional page of text. The paucity of verbiage signals the story's conclusion.
Then, you've consumed the last words. The story comes full circle. You look up. Breathe deep. You may wish it was not finished. Maybe you'll miss it. Like a friend who has moved to a faraway place.
As the book of 2013 concludes, how will you view it?
Did it crackle with excitement? Keep you on seat's edge?
Perhaps it lacked plot development. Poetic moments bookended by long, boring stretches.
If you undertake a book, find yourself not drawn in, you can put the book down. Begin another. Life, while a bit more challenging, offers that same opportunity.
Engaged in a story line of which you've tired? Change it. Alter directions. Put down the book. Begin another.
Linear time does not begin, proceed and conclude so neatly as good literature. Perhaps, that is its most singular beauty. The opportunity to edit on the fly. Don't like your character's role? Job? Direction? Attitude? Change it. Tired of your characters' friends? Change them. Character needs a change in scene? Find one.
In life, unlike literature, there is no preordained conclusion. No knowledge of what lay ahead. The drama occurs in real time. There is no final page signifying resolution. Even after your character is removed, the storyline continues. Indefinitely.
"In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed."
Time is what clocks measure. It is the only aspect of this life that has, does and will always exist. While time's previous chapters can be reviewed and discussed. Never will they be relived. The future contains your story. Pursue it relentlessly.
So long as you draw breath, you can look forward. The future expands endlessly before you. Each day we stand, resolutely or not, upon its vast frontier. You can watch and wonder. Or you can engage. Charge. And conquer.
Consider the calendar period that was 2013. What did you accomplish? Enjoy? Regret?
Were you the hero of your story? At what point in your life might you move from character actor to leading role? What's preventing you from becoming so?
78 books to live. Don't you wish to star in some?
Viktor Frankl was an Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist. A professor at the Vienna Medical School. He created a school of psychotherapeutic thought called Logotherapy, often referred to as the "Third Viennese School" following the work of Freud and Adler.
Frankl was a holocaust survivor. A captive of the three infamous Nazi concentration camps. Auschwitz. Theresienstadt. Dachau. Imprisoned at the age of thirty five, he spent three years living in the bowels of human misery. Thousands died around him. The level of cruelty witnessed and experienced by Frankl exists beyond the realms of imagination. He spent three years with no knowledge of his newlywed bride. His mother. Father. Hoping each day that they were alive.
Only Viktor survived.
A student of human thought, Frankl passed his time watching other prisoners. Studying their behavior. Their responses to the intolerable circumstances they inhabited. To the filth. Cold. Disease. Cruelty. Starvation.
Every day they were marched, tired, hungry and barefoot, across a frozen Polish tundra as they went to and returned from a fourteen hour workday. The guards administered vicious beatings for crimes like stumbling, falling, vomiting and crying. Upon returning to their bunks, they would dine on breadcrumbs. Attempt to warm themselves against the frigid winters. Hope for a fitful sleep. Wake, and face the same nightmare again. And again. And again.
Frankl was forced to be a spectator. They could take his belongings. His family. His confidence. His life. But they could not take his dignity. Nor his time. And he used it to watch the guards. The inmates. The staff. Eventually, making a vital observation that would change the future of psychiatric thought.
Regardless of the role one played, in the worst of human conditions, those who rose everyday with a reason to live were able to survive anything. Regardless of how intolerable. It was that simple. If they had a purpose. A "why," if you will, they had the power to live. Deprive a man of his "why," and you take his life.
What was your "why" in 2013? Your reason for living? Whatever it may have been, or continues to be, is not important. So long as it's there. When a human being wakes with a purpose, a reason to carry on, then he can survive life's most callous circumstances. Lose that purpose, and you lose the desire to live.
Once liberated, Frankl resumed the lead role in his book of life. He wrote books. One entitled, Man's Search for Meaning. If you've not read it, do so. It will recalibrate your perspective. You will love more. Your life. Your family. Your friends. Yourself.
As 2013 was one of many books in your life, so Frankl's book portrayed one of his. One that he was forced to endure. One that broke many of those around him. Still, he never consigned himself to any but the role he wished to play. Neither in those terrible places, nor in his life thereafter.
Frankl married again. Had a family. A career. A life.
Occasionally, one must venture into darkness in order to return and appreciate the light.
You are not apt to experience such difficulties as did Frankl. Still, you will face challenges.. Will run the occasional gauntlet. The book of life, the journey that inhabits its pages, demands it. Nobody passes through unscathed. Neither kings and queens, nor lords, nor serfs. All will be tried. How one faces those trials determines the book's storyline. Those difficulties give birth to inspiration. Inspiration enables the weak to straighten and face their tribulations with dignity. Strength. Those who choose to face their difficulties headlong inspire the rest.
"Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid."
Nelson Mandela found purpose. It made him the chief protagonist in a powerful story. One in which he was imprisoned for 27 years. Yet, he never lost his purpose.
Eventually his story inspired a people. Then a nation. Then the world.
One's challenges need not be mountains. But they will manifest themselves in a myriad of ways. Bound by the commonality of duress and misery.
Difficulties, regardless the size and severity, require that you know your "why," lest you not be able to rise each day. Climb your mountain. Return home across your frozen tundra. Wake up. And do it again.
Somewhere inside each of us is an inspired, purposeful explorer, longing to climb, sail, hike, chart, fight, march and live. Embrace him. He is the character that your story seeks and deserves. He is the conqueror of your future. The slayer of mediocrity.
Why do accomplished athletes endeavor to return from seemingly career ending injuries?
Why do soldiers remain with injured comrades amidst the chaos of insurmountable odds?
Why do college graduates travel to Sierra Leon to build houses amidst the squalor?
Why does one person never learn to swim. Yet, another swims across the Atlantic?
Purpose. Purposeful living. Get some. And resign to star in next year's story. Be the character your book was meant to have. Start now.
So, how was your year?
Did you bring a smile to those around you? Conquer fears that hindered you? Learn a skill? Progress towards goals? Teach a child? Help a stranger? Did you see, hear or feel God moving over the face of the waters?
For the encumbered, life is perpetual encumbrance. But, that is not you. Not who you were meant to be. You are so much more.
Sometimes, we must relearn as much. Recall that we are heroic. Wake with purpose. Regardless of how seemingly insignificant. Because purpose pursued purposefully makes mole hills into mountain tops. Upon which you can stand. And inspire others. Done often enough, those mole hills become mountain ranges.
Why should you not be the hero in this book called life. Boredom, depression, anxiety? These are waves pounding the bow of your boat. They will slow you. They cannot stop you.
Not when you've locked onto your purpose with the same passion by which Nelson Mandela freed a nation. By which Roald Amundsen traversed the South Pole. By which Hemingway wrote. Stravinsky played. Churchill led.
Find your purpose. Take a lead role in the book of your life.
Quit looking beyond yourself. Seeking artificial heroes. Media creations of admirable people. When we constantly seek to meet our heroes, we are destined for disappointment. When we determine to become heroes, we are forever enthralled and inspiring.
How was your year? You know the answer. Yet, at this point, it hardly matters. Calendars hang lifelessly on walls. They expire. Get tossed. Your life stands endlessly ahead of you. Filled with chances. Opportunities to become that of which you are capable.
In fact, 2014 is replete with opportunity. It will be a year that finds you frolicking amidst the bedlam. Heroically waltzing across the mosh pit of life.
"It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul."
Today you stand upon time's frontier. Resolutely. Facing forward. A new book awaits. Go.