Yesterday I was not, to put it in Dostoevsky’s terms, worthy of my sufferings. So I went out for ramen. I took Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning with me. My copy is an old paperback that belongs to my father-in-law. I’m borrowing it. I have been borrowing it for over a decade.
The first time I read the book was 8 years ago on lunch breaks in the library at the law school I worked for. I loved it then, not just for the words or the message, but for my father-in-law’s teenage underlines and perfect cursive marginalia. I knew my wife when she was young had read the same copy, and I wished that she had made her own underlines, maybe with a red pencil, to differentiate them from her dad’s, and then I would’ve added my own, maybe with a blue pencil. Instead, I took notes on a few index cards and left them as bookmarks.
I was about to crack it again yesterday, when my bowl of ramen came out quicker than I expected. So I let the paperback sit there on the counter as I slurped soup.
Frankl writes a lot about soup. In the concentration camp, soup was life. A cigarette could be traded for a bowl. Cooks would favor some prisoners by ladling from the bottom of the pot for bits of potato or peas, while shorting others by skimming off the top broth. The men told jokes about how they envisioned attending dinner parties in the future where they would suddenly forget themselves and beg the hostess to serve the soup “from the bottom!”
I took my time with the ramen. It was so delicious that at the end I lifted the bowl with two hands and swallowed the very last drop. I felt my spirits lift immediately.
I re-read the book at home this morning, adding my own notes and underlines this time, but in that moment back at the restaurant, I decided I didn’t really need the book. What I needed was the soup.