Of all places, I picked up Victor Frankl's work, A Man's Search for Meaning at a garage sale.
Let me back up.
I was rolling into my senior year at OU (University of Oklahoma) and had just gotten through a wonderful class with a professor named Dr. Frank. In his class, we had read a bit of Freud, which is always a harrowing experience when you first do it. Freud's deal was that the deepest things that drive humankind were sex and death. Getting and avoiding, repressing and embracing and all roads led to Rome, as it were.
Freud's method was to listen to what people said. From there he would patiently wait, and even if they didn't understand it, people would begin to talk about the things that really bugged them. He would take that nugget (someone mentioning their mother instead of father, or vice versa) and would hone in from there. Psychologists and Psychiatrists still do this today. At least this far, I think Freud had it right. If you listen, people will tell you a lot more than they may intend to. That isn't new.
Jesus mentions it in Matthew and Luke, "out of the abundance of the heart... the mouth speaks."
Here's the thing. If you follow Freud's own method in interpreting his own writings... then you come to the conclusion that Sigmund was really hung up on sex and death. Granted, those are two pretty big aspects of life... but it doesn't mean everyone is wrapped around the axle to the same extent or in the same way that Freud was. Sometimes an axle is just an axle.
Back to Frankl.
Frankl was a neo-Freudian, meaning he thought Freud was onto something, but he didn't think sex and death were the keys to the kingdom. His thesis was that meaning itself was the key... and he employed Freud's method from there to interesting results. For Freud, sex and death had deep meaning, for others, it might be something else. He worked on this, right up until the time the Nazis arrested him and carted him and his family off into the concentration camps during WWII.
So now you have a psychiatrist and student of human behavior, thrown involuntarily into the weirdest human experiment ever executed. What an amazing and tragic perspective... and as he writes, we see this world through his eyes. His accounts of the camps will make what is left of your hair stand up on end.
He tells of a late night where he saw someone tossing and turning, having a nightmare and they were in distress. Murmuring, trying to get away from their imagined dream, they were sweating and crying out in their sleep. Frankl reached for the man to wake him from his dream and then stopped, refusing to wake him up. He let him sleep, even in distress, because the horror of the camp and the things they faced in reality were so much worse than any nightmare.
Dr. Frankl talked about the razor's edge that the prisoners faced, extremely malnourished and abused, they were physically on the edge of death day to day. What kept them going was some sort of hope, some sort of meaning. And Victor wrote about those who lost their grip on the thing that kept them sane. Almost invariably, within hours, they would physically expire.
They were so close to death physically, the only thing keeping them alive was the will to live, the hope in a better future, a thread of meaning that they could hold onto with everything they had internally, on a heart level.
I read the book in an afternoon, without stopping. And I walked away from the text, shaken, and with this thought.
If meaning drives us, then the thing that we truly give our hearts to... it has to be amazing to sustain us when the chips are down, or worse, forcibly taken away.
It simply has to be amazing.