Finding Meaning in the Journey

cropped-man-at-the-door.jpgSomeone close to me remarked that they couldn’t understand how those who suffer from depression can be told to simply be happy and that they have chosen to be the way they are. I believe that this statement is both right and wrong. For me finding meaning in the journey is a deeply personal thing and requires each of us to learn to endure the weight of world. No one can give to us the experience nor the wisdom necessary to accomplish this. We must find it for ourselves. If we can’t then how can we live when we find ourselves abandoned by the world? I need to assure myself that there is a purpose to what my family and I are going through. I write it for them and I write it for me.

I think that those who suffer from depression feel the weight of immeasurable pain caused by traumatic events, personal choices, or the environment that they are surrounded by; in other words external or internal pressure. What is the meaning of pressure in this situation? To me it is a force that influences, intimidates, compels, or drives a certain object , or in this case, a person to react in a certain manner. More often than not escaping from that pressure isn’t an option, especially under extreme circumstances. However, I believe that people can choose how they will live, even while fighting against it. 

We can’t allow ourselves to fall victim to adversity and trials. Trials represent that darker side of life and they come in a myriad of forms that are cruel in fashion and resilient in nature. One of my favorite stories Fullmetal Alchemist (2001-2010) by Hiromu Arakawa explores the strength of the human will against these hardships. In volume 18 of the series she states, “Enduring and forgiving are two different things. You must not forgive the cruelty of this world. It’s our duty as human beings to be angry at injustice. But we must also endure it. Because someone must sever this chain of hatred.” Endurance requires incredible strength of will, something that is innately inherited by every human being. However, like all things it requires practice and application.

Knowing we have the will to do something inevitably awakens different questions. Why must we keep fighting? What is there to fight for? What is there to hold on to? I have always loved the conversation that Sam and Frodo have in the second installment of The Lord of the Rings (The Two Towers) because it answers those very questions. In the midst of a terrible battle Frodo, who was suffering under the pervasive influence of the Ring, felt that same despair that hits so many of us. The powerful words of wisdom Sam gives to him still touches me whenever I watch it. 

Frodo: I can’t do this Sam.

Sam: I know. It’s all wrong. By rights we shouldn’t even be here. But we are. It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger, they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going. Because they were holding on to something.

Frodo: What are we holding onto, Sam?

Sam: That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo… and it’s worth fighting for.

What benefits can we gain from fighting against cruelty, pain, and wanton hatred? Viktor Frankl, who endured incredible hardship in Auschwitz and other concentration camps, stated in his book Man’s Search For Meaning that “In some ways suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning, such as the meaning of a sacrifice.” In other words, what is not directly expressed or noticed amidst our suffering is the wisdom and strength we have gained. Happiness, true happiness that is, awaits those who have been able to keep going despite adversity because they find meaning in the suffering. To endure such things well brings immeasurable blessings.  Arakawa remarked, “A lesson without pain is meaningless. That’s because no one can gain without sacrificing something. But by enduring that pain and overcoming it, he shall obtain a powerful, unmatched heart. A fullmetal heart.” I think that is the defining difference between those who allow themselves to be swallowed by the weight of the world and those who keep fighting. Many great men like Lincoln and Winston Churchill also fought against depression, yet despite their hardships they did incredible things. 

Viktor Frankl noticed that “everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” Agency, the freedom to choose, is an immeasurable gift that ensures that we can never truly be forced to do anything unless we decide to do. Viktor Frankl also surmised that “Man does not simply exist but always decides what his existence will be, what he will become the next moment. By the same token, every human being has the freedom to change at any instant.” Who we are inadvertently comes from that freedom of change, which comes directly from how we choose to react to our environment.

It is important to understand, more than anything else, that we need not fight alone. We need the Savior. To find true fulfillment in this life and relief from its terrible weight we need to come unto Christ, who took upon all our sins as well as our pains and afflictions. It is at those times when all seems lost that we can see a light before us and Christ beckoning to us saying:

 28 Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek, and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls (Matthew 11)

Too often when we are at our lowest, when all the world turns to black, we feel the emptiness and terror of being alone and don’t turn to Him, though he is the one who truly understands us and can help us. Charity, love in its fullness, will lead men away from the emptiness their griefs have born. For, as Tolkien said, “The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater.” We must remember that there is much to live for, and die for in this world, though it may seem distorted and cruel. There is beauty in nature, beauty in words, beauty in song, and beauty in life; for mortality is one of the greatest opportunities and blessings given to us by our Heavenly Father.