One of the most remarkable thinkers of the 20th Century, Frankl argued that there is meaning in all forms of existence, even the most sordid ones such as incarceration in a prison camp, and thus a reason to continue living. He was one of the pioneers of existential therapy, referring to the problems of the inevitability of death, freedom and its attendant responsibility, existential isolation (referring to Phenomenology), and finally meaninglessness, which built on the philosophical explorations of Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Sartre, and others.
Frankl’s book is, above all, optimistic. It argues that meaning is discoverable, even in the tiniest things, and, indeed, that it is the heart of both survival and contentment.
This thought can be especially helpful during periods of grief.
Dogs are the ultimate existentialists, I suppose. Unable to control their world, they simply accept it, and work to make it as enjoyable as it can be.
When Zach – seen (top left) on the day he was purchased, to the day he died, (bottom left), today – was especially content, he would lie on my feet. And if my feet weren’t available, the nearest pair of feet. He was endlessly accepting. Patient. Ineffably good natured.
And funny, too: sometimes, you know, it almost seemed he knew that he was funny, and played up to it, but such anthropomorphism is probably unwarranted. Then again, who really knows? If we were miserable, or angry, he would stare at us, as if willing us to cheer up. And he would wink. One eye. Both eyes. It always seemed as if it was perfectly timed to puncture either pomposity or sadness.
He would push our front door open with his nose if we weren’t fast enough bringing the shopping in. He wouldn’t walk through the door unless invited – he knew that wasn’t allowed – so as the heavy door swang back he would just nudge it with his nose again. And again. And again. Until we were inside.
He must have been in discomfort for some time, yet never complained. His inevitable reaction to a word, or a pat, or even a glance, was simply utter adoration. Even on his last day, he would take the slightest opportunity to lie on his back, legs waving in the air, inviting the inevitable belly scratch.
For him, to be near us and alive was reason enough for existence.
Everything else he took in his stride, including the sudden and inoperable cancer, and today’s last goodbye.
We can learn a lot from dogs.