May Reading for Chalice Elders: Meaning

At our monthly Elders Lunch (held on zoom the second Friday each month from 12 noon to 1 p.m.), Rev. Sharon shares a reading from the book In Later Years: Finding Meaning and Spirit in Aging by Bruce T. Marshall, a Unitarian Universalist minister. The following are excerpts shared at our May Elders Lunch. The theme of this chapter is “Meaning.”

Without a sense that our life matters, we struggle. (p. 91)

[This chapter makes reference to Viktor Frankl’s book Man’s Search for Meaning, which describes his imprisonment in a Nazi concentration camp.]

Old age can bring suffering, loss of hope, loss of faith in what a person has lived for. And while the challenges faced in aging rarely approach the intensity of those encountered in a concentration camp, we can experience a similar existential crisis that can be expressed in the single word Why? Why do I endure? What does it matter? What difference does my life make now? (pp. 93-94)

Meaning comes to us both by what is prescribed by the conditions of life in which we find ourselves and by the choices we make in response. Frankl emphasizes the power of choice each person possesses—the liberty to choose who we will be, no matter what our life circumstances may be:

“We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof 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.”

Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl

The power to decide who we will be is a factor in our lives at all stages, but it becomes especially important in our later years. Now, when the prescribed tasks of my life have been largely completed, what then matters to me? What meaning or meanings will I choose? Who will I be? (pp. 94-95)