When I was in graduate school studying theology at Notre Dame, I worked with a priest on a video project. One day he told me to look at the new 3-D poster on his wall and tell me what I saw.
“Dots,” I said. “Lots of dots.”
“Look harder,” he said. “Now what do you see?”
“Still more dots.”
I tried this exercise a few more times and was growing frustrated. Then I relaxed my focus a tad, and suddenly a saw a palm tree. Then a rainbow. Suddenly I saw an intricate rainforest of vibrant colors.
I think about that poster in moments of divine synchronicity, when the random pieces of my life suddenly fit together in a puzzle that make sense. Every so often, we get an aerial view of the landscape of our lives that provides inspiration for all those hours spent in the trenches, when we question the meaning behind our mundane activities.
Perhaps the best example of that was last Thursday when a few us who are involved in the online depression community Group Beyond Blue celebrated the life of Mary Cimiluca, one of the administrators who gave tirelessly to the group.
Four and a half years ago I started the group after reading Man’s Search for Meaning by Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist Viktor Frankl. I was profoundly moved by his message that suffering has meaning, especially when we can turn our pain into service of others. A survivor of the Holocaust, he writes:
We must never forget that we may also find meaning in life even when confronted with a hopeless situation, when facing a fate that cannot be changed. For what then matters is to bear witness to the uniquely human potential at its best, which is to transform a personal tragedy into a triumph, to turn one’s predicament into a human achievement. When we are no longer able to change a situation — just think of an incurable disease as inoperable cancer — we are challenged to change ourselves.
At the time I had tried numerous medication combinations, alternative therapies, mindfulness exercises, cognitive-behavioral strategies, but I still lived with panic and depression. I wondered if I would ever feel better. Upon finishing his book, I created the Facebook page and started posting, inviting anyone I knew who struggled with depression. Today the group is a vibrant community of 5,600 people. Mary and other administrators, especially Al Lindquist, have nurtured the community with loving guidance and inspirational posts over the years. Its sister site, Project Hope & Beyond, that I started shortly thereafter has 24,000 members.
Frankl’s “logotherapy” is based on the belief that human nature is motivated by the search for a life purpose. If we devote our time and energy toward finding and pursuing the ultimate meaning of our life, we are able to transcend some of our suffering. It doesn’t mean that we don’t feel it. However, the meaning holds our hurt in a context that gives us peace.
In a dark period of her own, Mary also found inspiration in Frankl’s book. As the founder and president of Noetic Films, she co-produced the documentary of Viktor Frank, Viktor & I, with Alex Vesley, Frankl’s grandson, with whom she became very close. At the lunch following the funeral service, a group of a dozen friends of Mary’s shared tributes of her. As I told the genesis of Group Beyond Blue – inspired by Man’s Search for Meaning– next to Frankl’s grandson, I couldn’t help but think of the rainforest.
I see it.
I definitely see it.
It was a moment of delicious synchronicity, an aerial view of life that I’ll remember when all I see is dots.