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Book Reviews

BE ON YOUR GUARD TO MAKE LIFE A PRECIOUS GIFT
By Joe Palathunkal
"How to Make LIFE Worth Living" by Fr. Varghese Paul, SJ, Insight Books, Pauline Publications, 143, Waterfield Road, Bandra, Mumbai, 2009, pp.168, price Rs.80/-

In September 2009, Arvind Pathak and wife Mamta decided death was the only solution to their growing financial difficulties. The 38-year-old MBA poisoned his 11-year-old daughter, then his wife. He consumed the poison himself and raced out of his house, screaming about what he had just done. Pathak is one in a growing list of couples who conclude that life can never solve their myriad problems.

The above introduction to a report on family suicides in The Times of India (9/10/2009) indicates something about the sociology and psychology of family suicides and, as the report mentions in its title, in India in tends to be a middle-class phenomenon. Psychologically, middle-class people are in terrible emotional turmoil when they meet with extreme financial problems because they are not willing to do more menial jobs and eke out a living, thereby lowering their image, and so they choose death.

Is life worth living?  This is the most frightening and threatening question faced by millions of people all over the world. Presumably, almost everyone faces this question at least momentarily, sometime. Varghese Paul’s book, How to make life worth living is a commendable attempt to find an answer.

It has been published at a time when people worldwide are struggling to find meaning because of the economic meltdown and terrorism, and they face internal and external confusion. Dr. Viktor Frankel, who conceived the famous logo therapy, emphatically said that if you have a “why” to live, you can put up with any “how”. He observed this in the excruciating circumstances of a Nazi concentration camp.

Today, it appears, many lives are beset by meaninglessness and the associated pain. Amidst all this we can find meaning, according to the author, if you find,

“that something inside of us which helps us to stand erect and hold our heads high. I believe it is our ethical, moral and religious values that make us stand erect amidst trials and difficulties…Our values, graced by love, help us stand firm in spite of the mingled yarn of problems and conflicts in our daily living.”

The author’s twenty-five essays encourage us to find the “why” of life in simple things and in simple ways. You may find meaning when you hear birds chirping or see the humaneness of Mother Teresa of Calcutta; or you may be inspired by the stories in this book, among them: “Justice for all means peace for all”, “Teachers are the key to education”, “Cultural and religious pluralism”, “Displaced persons and refugees”, “Let human rights rule your house” or “Fighting social evil – the Adivasi Way”.

Celine Paul, the author’s sister, found life worth living when she served in a village hospital in Eritrea., one of Africa’s poorest countries. A member of the Vedrunite religious congregation, she says, “My gut-level feeling is that my ministry as a missionary and a medical person is to work for and with poor people.” She reflects some measure of joy in being there to serve others. Albert Schweitzer provided medical service for Africans in the 1940s and received the 1952 Nobel Peace Prize. These people made their own lives worth living by giving meaning to others’ lives.

Problems arise when we measure life’s worth in terms of money, status or power. The leitmotif of this book is to discard these parameters to judge life’s value and, instead, to find meaning by serving others. The author’s experience when he met with a serious accident is just one of the descriptions of situations that invite readers to reflect.

Your life is much more valuable than the lilies of the field and the birds of the air, Jesus told us. The Hindi poet Sumitranandan Pant wrote: “Manav tum sub se sundartam” (Man you are the most beautiful). The book How to make LIFE Worth Living will prompt you to decide in favour of life when you are at the crossroads. The author encourages us to explore “all possible avenues to solve problems and to get out of difficulties.” Whey you face difficulties, remember the title of Robert Schuler’s book, Tough times never last, But tough people do. Varghese Paul’s book can help you to face tough times by seeing how others find meaning in anchoring their hearts and minds on abiding values.

Whoever you may be and however securely placed in life, I suggest that you keep a copy of How to make Life worth Living. It may serve as a wake up call at critical junctures in your life. Teachers who are engaged in value education may also find this attractively printed volume useful for their classrooms.

 

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Books by Fr. Varghese Paul, S. J.