Weedy Wisdom

The doorbell rang and I was about to be scammed by a five year old. «Hello Sir. Would you like to buy an Easter bouquet for only twenty centimes (about twelve cents)? Picked fresh today.» She showed me her floral arrangement: seven dandelions held together by stubby little Euro fingers. She was surrounded by four or five other local urchins, each watching my reaction carefully with wide eyes. Naturally I said yes and she and her accomplices danced off to their next con victim. Money for dandelions? Actually, yes. I made a child smile for twelve cents: that's good value for money. And the dandelions held wisdom on a Sunday afternoon. (Note: not that I'm always as spiritual as all that. Catch me sometime on a Monday morning without a cup of coffee and I'm likely to be about as spiritual as a lumberjack with a beer high. Spirituality tends to come and go, and I'll bet even the Buddha himself had moments when he felt like telling the world to get bent).

Anyway, this was one of those spiritual moments, so I got out a good vase, filled it with water and put my weeds in it. Wife, children, even the family guinea pig gave me funny looks. Wondered if I had been into another kind of weed of the Columbian variety. No, I assured them all, I kept the dandelions as a reminder to myself of the fact that life is a matter of perspective. Five year old eyes do not see what forty year old ones do. They see a yellow flower, not really different from the ones in the flower shop for which older eyes pay money. Perspective. Some see weeds, others see flowers. Some see people of different color, nationality or sexual preference, others see simply people. It depends on how we look at things.

If I mention the town of Oswiecim, chances are you won't know what I'm talking about unless you speak Polish. Never heard of it, you say. But if I give you the German name of the town, you'll not only know it, you'll feel moved. Guaranteed. Oswiecim. Auschwitz. The Nazi concentration camp in Poland. On this Sunday, as I looked at my dandelions, I thought about the place. Not about the suffering, but about perspective. And what it means for all of us.

Viktor Frankl was an Austrian psychiatrist who was imprisoned at Auschwitz during the Second World War. Like millions, he experienced the unspeakable. And he survived. He wrote of his experiences and how those prisoners who didn't believe they had anything to live for, perished, but those who believed they had a reason to go on, a mission to accomplish in life, fought to survive. Their yearning to accomplish a goal gave them the strength to live through the unimaginable. Those who had lost their belief in the future succumbed to the horror of Oswiecim.

Frankl described how a simple light helped sustain him in this place which must have been as close to hell as any on earth could be. He remembers that there was a farmhouse in the distance and how on cold winter mornings its light became a beacon of hope for him. As he looked at the house, he knew that the light of the whole world had not been extinguished and that one day the light would overcome the darkness. Although almost his entire family was wiped out, Frankl survived and became the originator of the school of logotherapy and one of Europe's leading psychiatrists. He often asked his patients, who suffered all kinds of problems, «Why don't you just commit suicide?» Their answers, such as the love for one's children, or that book which has to be written, helped him to inject meaning into his patient's seemingly meaningless existences. How important it is for us to have goals in life, things which we live for, no matter how large or small, and to see a beacon of light and hope every day. Some see light, others see hope. Some see dandelions, others see flowers.

Different People