George Washington wrote to Benjamin Franklin in 1789: “You must have the pleasing consolation to know that you have not lived in vain.”
January 17,1706 was the birthday of Benjamin Franklin in Boston. Despite his association with Quakers, Franklin was not one of them. He was a New England puritan, the tenth son in a Calvinist family known as soap and candle makers. Franklin is remembered for his philosophical thinking; “By not preparing, you are preparing to fail”; “God helps those who help themselves”; writing Poor Richard’s Almanac (1732); his inventions: bifocal glasses, the “Franklin stove,” leadership in early colonial years and for joining fifty-one other delegates who dared to sign the Declaration of Independence from England. Children who do not know “cursive” cannot read such important history & signatures.
After moving to Philadelphia, Franklin once wandered into a Quaker meeting, where it was reported, “he fell asleep.” Philadelphia in the 21st century remains a prominent pacifist Quaker stronghold with the title of “Friends” formally described as American Friends Service Commission (AFSC). Their office is still located in central Philadelphia at 1501 Cherry Street near the Delaware river.
“Having lived in vain” is a haunting preoccupation for modern women and men in violent, abnormal times. German statesman Konrad Adenauer (1876-1967) felt “1913 (year before WWI) was the last normal year in history.”
Two books rising from the horrors of WWII may serve as psychological support to those seeking satisfaction and meaning in troubled times. “Not living in vain” has been a daily challenge in the 21st century when successive wars have followed WW I & WWII.
Man’s Search For Meaning by Viktor Frankl flowed from the ruminations of one prisoner in Dachau and Auschwitz Nazi prison camps. Sanity was maintained in Frankl’s “logotherapy” by determining our discovery of meaning in life. Frankl quotes Nietzsche throughout his book. “If we have a ‘why’ in life, we can put up with almost any how.” In 1991 the Library of Congress conducted a survey among hundreds of readers. Many listed Frankl’s book as one of the top ten that made a difference in their lives.
The second book also arose from the ashes of Third Reich Nazi madness. The Prison Meditations of Alfred Delp, a Jesuit priest, is a diary of one man’s personal struggle to find meaning in imprisonment and eventual martyrdom.
Having read a martyr’s powerful prison meditations in 1960, one penetrating bit of logotherapy remains fresh in my memory. Delp wrote: “In our age, there is a continual struggle to find meaning in life.” The question looms: ‘Has my life had any meaning?’ To this question I suggest an answer. If we have made just one person happy in our years, then our life has had meaning.”
Have we lived in vain? People will not forget kindness and compliments from others.