Thinking about my brother Michael’s life, I am reminded of the book, Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. Frankl, an
The first way is by accomplishing or creating something. Michael’s creativity blossomed over the last two years of his life and stayed with him until his final days. His unique vision could turn a photograph of a washing machine into a work of art and a subject for poetry. Wherever he happened to be – in Japan, suburban New Jersey, or New York’s East Village – he paid attention to things most people would pass by and showed they were worthy of notice. Above all, he was in search of the authentic – in the world and in himself. In photographing people, Michael captured their essence. He approached his subjects humbly, without artifice, and they responded by revealing their inner natures. In his blog, Michael revealed himself in the same way and touched readers all over the world. Michael had to stop taking pictures when his cameras became too heavy for him, but he continued writing until the night before he moved to the hospice. His last blog entry was the moving poem “Fatigue” in which he said “I see the steady progress of death…But, blessing of blessings I can still feel the life spark.”
The second way of finding meaning in life is by appreciating something – a work of nature or culture or a person. Back in 2005, Michael said, “Sometimes, I look upon this disease as a blessing because it has forced me to appreciate things in my life I used to take for granted. Simple things. I still take these things – time, friends, the physical ability to pursue my livelihood, interests and hobbies – for granted. But now, I often catch myself in the act, slow down a bit, and appreciate more. I see the joy in just being able to enjoy a cup of tea. Or having an especially rewarding workout in karate class. Or not feeling guilty about doing absolutely nothing on a Saturday afternoon.” Toward the end of his life, Michael wasn’t taking anything for granted, but what he appreciated above all were love and compassion.
The third way of finding meaning in life is through suffering. Frankl says that when a person is confronted with a terrible fate that cannot be changed, just then, he is given a last chance to actualize the highest value, to fulfill the deepest meaning, the meaning of suffering. The way in which he accepts his fate, the courage he shows, the dignity he displays, is the measure of his human fulfillment. I was with Michael when his doctor told him there was no more that medical science could do for him. Afterwards we went to lunch in a favorite Japanese restaurant where Michael ordered his usual soba noodles. We didn’t talk much. We drank tea. That night, Michael wrote a powerful blog entry. He said, “I need to live this, and to know that I'm living it. I need to be aware. This is important.” The attitude Michael took towards his suffering – his acceptance, courage, and dignity – inspired everyone who came into contact with him. Even those who knew him only in his final days were stirred by his spirit.
Michael’s life was rich with meaning and in living his life the way he did, he taught us all a lot about the meaning of our own lives.
I’d like to close with one of Michael’s poems. It’s called “Reminder to myself.”
Living life to its fullest isn't about
checking off thrills from a list;
It's about being fearless in following my dreams,
courageous in accepting
that some will go unfulfilled
and taking the time to savor
something as simple
as a cup