“Kathy, I’m lost, I’m empty and aching and I don’t know why.” Paul Simon wrote the anthem of young idealists exploring their world, looking for meaning, for fulfillment, for …something. Many others have written of the awkward search by the young; their search for their place in the world, their search for direction, their search for their futures.
Having once been young, I can attest there were many times…what now seem like vast expanses of time…I expected to find something to make my life complete. The intensity of the need to find that something diminished over the years, but it never disappeared.
My marriage of more than 33 years provides an anchor and the comfort of knowing I belong someplace, but it alone can’t fully fill that youthful aching for completion. For awhile, my work helped fill the remaining empty space, or so I thought. On reflection, I think it simply distracted me from dwelling on the emptiness.
Perhaps distraction is what we’re after. We’d rather not face the prospect, the terrible sense of unease, that there may not be a broader purpose. So we distract ourselves with work or children or church or causes. We get embroiled in politics and battles between cultures. We fight wars or express righteous indignation against them. We shuffle and cluck and busy ourselves with lifetimes of struggle against learning what we do not wish to know.
Whether the stages he described are real phases or just conceptual constructs, I suspect Viktor Frankl got much of the core of it right. Man’s Search for Meaning applies not just to prisoners in concentration camps, but to prisoners-of-fear who worry about what we know, or what we don’t.
We’re all prisoners shackled to the here and now. Most of us ultimately get over the shock of where we find ourselves, but occasionally we run up against bitterness and disappointment and emptiness. And so we continue the search.
If we’re lucky enough to have found an anchor, whether it be marriage or religion or a combination of many things, we can minimize the void. But we can never completely erase it. Yet we keep looking. We keep hoping. And maybe that’s what keeps us moving along, shuffling and clucking and struggling against knowing what we don’t wish to know.