Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The impossibility of replacing a person: Life after a near death experience

Clipper and Douglas St, Noe Valley, SF
In his book “Man's Search for Meaning,” Holocaust survivor Dr. Viktor Frankl writes:
When the impossibility of replacing a person is realized, it allows the responsibility which a man has for his existence and its continuance to appear in all its magnitude.

This past weekend, I came to realize this impossibility and responsibility perhaps for the first time after: losing control of my bike on an unforeseeable .5 mile stretch of deep SF hills, hitting a minivan while going about 50 MPH, and walking away 15 minutes later with only a scratch on my left arm.

Spiraling down those 3 hills – without a helmet and on a fixed-gear bike without brakes – was the scariest 60 seconds of my life. I’ve replayed it hundreds of times in my head and remember very clearly a thought I’ve never had before: that I was going to die. Right there – on Clipper and Douglas Street, in Noe Valley, San Francisco – I was convinced I was going to die.

But for some reason, I didn’t…

Still in disbelief, I’ve been thinking a lot about what that reason might be. And about what Frankl meant by the impossibility of replacing a person. And the magnitude of responsibility that comes with that realization. 

In many ways, Frankl goes on to answer what that reason and responsibility is:
Being human always points, and is directed, to something, or someone, other than oneself— be it a meaning to fulfill or another human being to encounter. The more one forgets himself— by giving himself to a cause to serve or another person to love— the more human he is and the more he actualizes himself...

No one can become fully aware of the very essence of another human being unless he loves him. By his love he is enabled to see the essential traits and features in the beloved person; and even more, he sees that which is potential in him, which is not yet actualized but yet ought to be actualized. Furthermore, by his love, the loving person enables the beloved person to actualize these potentialities. By making him aware of what he can be and of what he should become, he makes these potentialities come true.

So, on the eve of my 29th birthday – having never felt more grateful to be alive – my prayer for this year (and really the rest of my life), is that I can learn how to forget myself by discovering and loving others, that through that love I can understand (and help others understand) their potential, and that by realizing this potential we will make our world a better place.

I know it won’t be easy, but I also know that it’s my responsibility to try, and that it’s the reason why I’m still alive today.