Viktor Frankl was the founder of Logotherapy and the author of 32 books, including Man’s Search for Meaning, identified by the Library of Congress as one of the ten most influential books in the English language.
After reading Man’s Search for Meaning, I sent Dr. Frankl a letter expressing my admiration. I told him I had stumbled on his book after an extensive period of soul-searching and that I wished I had found it earlier.
Man’s Search for Meaning had a profound impact on me and I told him so. To my surprise, Dr. Frankl answered my letter with a personal note raising questions which encouraged a response. With that beginning, we exchanged letters for some time until I found an opportunity to invite him to come to America and keynote a conference I was helping to organize.
We met at the airport and I must have peppered him with a hundred questions as we drove to town. We had an early dinner that evening and said goodnight. The next morning, Viktor gave a stirring speech, receiving a standing ovation from the three thousand people attending the conference.
After lunch, I walked him back to his room and thanked him for making the long journey from Vienna for one speech. I said good-bye not knowing when, if ever, I would see him again.
Early the next morning, the phone rang at my home. When I answered, I heard Viktor’s voice. He said his return flight did not leave until late in the day and he was wondering if I would I mind coming to his hotel and spending some time with him.
We spent the entire day together and though nothing explicit was said, I could tell he was “working on me.” Viktor had clearly thought about the questions I had asked the night before and was trying to extend my thinking.
Over the next few years, Viktor would periodically send me the text of something he was working on and ask what I thought. The question was always phrased as though he was seeking my opinion, but I came to know it was just one more way of extending our dialogue.
One of the last things he sent me contained a portion of a chapter he was preparing for his biography. There was little Viktor left to chance and I expect there was no chance in this.
The text described his relationship with Freud. As a young man, Frankl said he was so eager to meet this great man that he staked out a park in Vienna that he was said to frequent, hoping to see him. Finally, his effort was blessed with success and he was bold enough to make an approach. He described Freud as gracious, patient, and generous. At the conclusion of their conversation Freud was kind enough to invite Frankl to send him some of his work to review.
“Before long,” Viktor wrote, “I was corresponding with Freud on a regular basis, sending him anything I thought would interest him. He promptly answered every letter and was responsible for publishing my first treatise on psychotherapy.”
With this I came to understand the circle of life. The only way to repay those whose footsteps we follow is by helping those whose footsteps follow our own. When we are engaged in helping others, we are not so much conferring favors as canceling debts.