Wednesday, June 28, 2006

"Provisional existence"

During our recent closet clean I found another forgotten book that's finally being read: Viktor Frankl's "Man's Search For Meaning".

Frankl was a well known psychiatrist and expert in psychiatric things. He also endured and survived 3 years as a prisoner of Nazi concentration camps including Auschwitz.

His experiences as a prisoner led to many later-life discoveries in the psychiatric field...primarily something called "logotherapy", which is explained in the second half of this book (I haven't got that far yet).

But the first half of the book is a general biography of his day to day holocaust existence, which sets up the scene for discovering and explaining logotherapy. A very shocking and fascinating read.

One of Frankl's discoveries of people's mental hi-jinks within the concentration camps is what he calls a "provisional existence". That's where a person ceased living for a future, in contrast to a person in normal life. He explains that unemployed workers go through the same thing: living long days with no end to this goal-less ordeal in sight. Yet larger frames of time like a week or a month can fly by.

Sometimes, prisoners live through "provisional existence" too. But if they know their future date of release, it gives them a goal and thus, reason to live beyond provisional existence. They know when the end is in sight. The unemployed and victims of the holocaust had no clue if and when the end is ever in sight.

I think the wilderness my family and I have lived in for the better part of 2-3 years is kin to a provisional existence. I don't intend to water down the experiences of nor compare my life to a holocaust victim. And I do have a larger hope...that is, faith in the CEO's promises for my life.

But this provisional existence of mine has trained me to identify with the poverty culture within the fair mother city far above and beyond anything I could have read or studied for. Maybe my experience is loosely similar to Frankl's 3 year hell which served as his "field work" for discovering revolutionary psychiatric studies and techniques.

After living with (and like) the poverty class in many situations, I have recently realized that it is increasingly difficult for me to identify with the middle class America from which I came. Examples are numerous. My favorite recent example is as follows:

A few weeks ago I took Obi-Wan to his foot doctor appointment. His nurse who usually drives him was unavailable. So he asked me.

I didn't want to just drop him off. So I waited with and assisted him.

We waited in the lobby with one other patient for over an hour. Then when Obi-Wan's name was called we waited in the patient room for another 20 minutes.

The doctor finally came in, looking all Magnum PI and such...complete with Hawaiian shirt and shaggy hair like he was ready for cocktails. That's fine. I look shaggy and wear Hawaiian shirts too. But I ain't a doctor. I'm a secret agent.

Obi-Wan was here to get his toe nails trimmed since he's a diabetic and only doctors are suppose to trim diabetic's toenails, so I'm told. The whole time while the doctor was trimming with this drill-like thing (which I could have done, I'm sure), I was looking out the window at his red convertible sports car parked under the special covered parking space with his name on the reserved sign. So it goes.

Then I cleaned up the blood from one of Obi-Wan's toe nails because the doctor didn't notice he made Obi-Wan bleed. He had already left.

On our way out there were two other patients waiting in the patient rooms and the lobby was now filled with elderly and helpless-looking people. All awaiting their savior, Magnum PI: the foot doc. And as Obi-Wan was settling up at the front desk, I saw the doctor out the front window taking a casual stroll outside throughout the office complex.

That's where I almost lost it.

Arrogance. "Us verses Them". This, "I'm the one they need and they can wait on me" kind of thing. That's where I realized I no longer identified with the middle class and saw things through the eyes of the poor and elderly sitting in the waiting room.

I'm sure the doctor is a nice guy. If I got to know him he might invite me and the family over for high dollar beer. Maybe have a dip in the pool. Maybe go for a ride in the sports car. Talk about his kids enrolled in prestigious universities. What's wrong with any of that? And maybe that stroll through the office complex was just a desperately needed break. I don't know.

All THAT to provisional existence is training me to see things more like "them" and less like "us". For whatever that's worth...


Jason & Nicole said...

It's worth a lot to me.


miller said...

sometimes i think all God sees is hearts.

i love your journey.


Anonymous said...

Just read Frankl and made the same leap in thinking as you re 'provisional existence' - a useful concept! Only God can make sense odf these wilderness periods; hope you are out of yours.