This spring break, I read a copy of Viktor Fankl’s book Man’s Search For Meaning that I purchased from a homeless man on the street by NYU for $2.
My blockmates minus one and I had taken a bus to New York for St. Patrick’s Day weekend, and in an attempt to avoid members of the potato diaspora who had pregamed the commuter rail from Scarsdale, we were milling about at NYU. Some beardos in flannel were playing folk music under the George Washington Arch when we saw an old homeless man (in retrospect, maybe he was a professor…?) with a table full of books. Previous experience from book sellers on the street – like the sketchy guy by Yenching on Mass Ave – suggested that this man might stock exclusively Tom Clancy thrillers, self-published self-help books, and romance novels. However, this weird book guy was unlike all other weird book guys: he had two large picnic tables full of classic works of literature and philosophy.
Twenty dollars and several squeals of joy later, I was the proud possessor of six new paperbacks in gently loved condition – among them, Victor Frankl’s acclaimed memoir Man’s Search For Meaning.
Frankl is a remarkable writer: reading his account of his time in a Nazi concentration camp, I was struck by his enduring faith in the ability of individuals to retain their humanity in even the most dehumanizing of conditions. He doesn’t answer the question that the title suggests – “what is the meaning of life?” – but turns it back at the reader: instead of expecting life to produce a meaning for us, we derive meaning from it by living as fully as possible. We will struggle, we may even suffer, but in making it our mission to overcome those struggles and sufferings we create meaning. It’s an inspiring message to take into the final stretch of my freshman year: carpe the diem, love others, embrace challenges.
The takeaway: I now have enough hipster street cred to last until at least junior year, and I will be able to find meaning in the process of overcoming my midterms.