This past summer, a friend of mine gave me a book. I had interviewed her a few times over the years because her daughter was murdered by a man eventually sentenced to life in prison. Then, when I was also personally touched by murder, we connected through a common bond.
I admired the way she faced grief with grit and gumption. She wanted me to read Man’s Search For Meaning, by Viktor Frankl.
Frankl was a psychiatrist, and a leading proponent of logotherapy, a theory of psychotherapy based in the existential question, “Why am I here?” He survived the Holocaust in Kaufering and Auschwitz. His wife, and most of his family, did not.
“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves,” he wrote. His reaction to the hopelessness of death and sickness around him was to survive. Not through callous self-preservation but with resilience.
I have learned to accept the things I cannot change. In 2015, my late-girlfriend, journalist Alison Parker, was executed on live television along with her photographer, Adam Ward. We had just moved in together, we were blissfully in love and we were ready to begin our new life.
As the evening anchor at the television station where we worked, I took some time off, but went back and worked until this past Friday.
I left a successful career and am now running for a seat in the Virginia House of Delegates.
Reading Frankl helped embolden me to make that change. I would never begin on the path toward happiness until I controlled which way I took.
Going into the newsroom each day began to numb me to the humanity on which I was supposed to be reporting. The only way I could read news of murders, protests, hatred, and loss was to insulate myself from that human emotion. Even as I connected with people in a new, profound way on TV, I was becoming a shell. The man Alison loved began to fray at the edges.
That man is being made whole now with my dedication to the service of the people who supported me during my sorrow. I was tempted to leave southwest Virginia and the Blue Ridge Mountains to go start a new life. But I feel a responsibility to stay and give back to those who continue to give me so much.
“I recommend that the Statue of Liberty be supplemented by a Statue of Responsibility on the west coast,” Frankl said.
We cannot have our liberties, our freedom to choose our own way, without the dedication to protect them. Journalism offered me a great outlet to highlight when freedoms were threatened.
Now I can fight for those who are most vulnerable. The mother finishing her degree to provide a better life for her children but can’t because it’s too expensive. The brother trying to get his sister from Syria to Blacksburg, a town with a rich tradition of refugee resettlement, but our borders turn a blind eye. The daughter desperately hoping her father can be treated for opioid addiction before going to jail, but there are no services available.
This won’t be an easy path. I’ve already been attacked by the other side, from viewers and even some friends. But, as Frankl said, if I have a why to live for, I can bear almost any how.
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing,” Frankl wrote. “The last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”