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Volume 1, Issue 3
Autumn 2005:

They Can't Take That Away From Me

Brian T. Maurer

Cell 2 Soul. 2005 Autumn; 1(3):a13

Auschwitz Heute
Photographer: Barry Penchansky
[Larger Image]

A friend of mine, now into his seventies, recently made the observation that, in his opinion, age fifty is a dividing line of sorts in the life of a human being.

"Before age 50," he says, "you get things: presents on your birthday, gifts at graduation, financial support when you're just starting out.

"But after age 50, things are taken away from you: bits of teeth and bone, pieces of damaged precancerous skin, the hair on your head, your short-term memory."

Sad, but true. I turned 50 two years ago, and I know.

There is, however, one thing that can't be taken away from a human being in any given set of circumstances, and that one thing is the attitude that a person brings to a particular situation.

Many years ago I invested $5.99 in a copy of Viktor Frankl's little book Man's Search for Meaning. In it Frankl details the lives and sufferings of victims in Nazi concentration camps during the late 1930's and early 1940's.

Like the more recent reports of prisoner abuse coming out of Afghanistan and Iraq, Frankl's descriptions are difficult to read. You can scarcely believe the things that those in power did to their fellow human beings solely for the purpose of humiliating and degrading them. The physical abuse was horrible of course. But in Frankl's estimation the emotional degradation may have been worse.

Many victims succumbed to these acts of humiliation and violence. Yet Frankl noticed a common thread in those who survived. Somehow, when faced with tremendous overwhelming odds, these survivors were able to maintain themselves through a right attitude.

Frankl describes one occasion after a particularly grueling winter work day when he and a fellow prisoner chanced to look up and regard the sunset in all its poignant beauty. Another prisoner took periodic solace from the two blossoms on a scraggly Chestnut tree outside the barracks window. They had each learned to live in the moment and accept it at face value.

There are many things that we can't control in life. Yet one thing we can always hold on to is our self-respect.

In some situations that may be the only thing we have to insure our survival.

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