Chicken Strips and the Meaning of Life

The truest thing I’ve ever heard came from the least likely of sources. Being a teacher you might expect the source was a pre-pubescent junior higher. But you would be wrong. It could have been from a brilliant self-help guru who frequents late night infomercials. And let me just say, late night infomercial self-help gurus understand their demo. Everything sounds good late at night, even selling your body and soul to the deliciously addictive late night menu at Taco Bell. Yet, it was not these masters of manipulation.
There are very few transcendent moments when you’re a carny. About the only moment of revelation you’d expect is the one where you finally realize you’re a carny. Things pretty much take their own course from there. But this moment was different than others. This moment was lacking in the typical self-loathing and utter lack of awareness which comes with your daily duties (I was a carny for pretty much the entire Bush administration.). There wasn’t even a hint of marijuana on his breath as he uttered this truth. Mark looked at me and said, “the greatest joy in life is having something to look forward to.”
I tried to utter something deep and thoughtful. I forced a pretty decent “yeah, man” out and tried to look like I was pondering my existence. With furrowed brow I nodded my assent. Really I was just thinking about those chicken strips I was about to assault my stomach with at lunch. If looking forward to something was the measure of joy, then you could call my life’s biggest cheerleader. Except take away the pom-poms and replace them with a tray of chicken strips and some barbecue sauce.
This moment has played itself over in my head many times. Yet try as I might – and I’ve even sought professional, mental assistance – I haven’t been able to erase the image of me in an awful 90’s striped polo. Children of today have no clue just how real the struggle truly was. But even more powerful than the fate of 90’s style was the seeming truth of his statement. Having something to look forward to always seemed to make life more fun, dare I say more meaningful.
Fast forward a few years and I am introduced to an author by the name of Viktor Frankl. Now I wasn’t physically introduced to him, but I recently heard that you should surround yourself with people you want to go towards (to become like). So I surround myself with the greats of history and treat them as friends. The downside is that since most of them are dead I’m usually left to pay the bill at dinner. But it’s a sacrifice you’re willing to make. Some of us just have to buy friends.
If you don’t know, Frankl survived the holocaust. How did he do it? He found and pursued meaning. In the midst of one the darkest times in human history Frankl was able to see beyond the pain, suffering, and death that was his constant companion. Not only did he find meaning in the midst of senseless slaughter, but the Nazis put him in charge of convincing other victims not to take their own lives. How do you convince men in the concentration camps of Auschwitz not to commit suicide? You give them meaning. At the hands of the Nazis, their deaths would serve a greater purpose. Your life didn’t feel meaningful, but at least your death could be.
I don’t know if Mark was familiar with Viktor Frankl. But the truth he laid down for me all those years ago became perfectly illuminated in the life and work of Frankl. Frankl said that the purpose of our lives is to pursue meaning. It is only when we don’t have meaning to pursue that we substitute with pleasures.
Who am I to question his wisdom? He challenged Freud and survived Hitler. I only survived 90’s fashion – and barely at that. It’s finally time to put those chicken strips down. It’s time to find my meaning.


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