Judith Valente

  • Author, Journalist, Poet. 
  • TV & Radio Producer.
  • Speaker & Retreat Leader. 
  • Benedictine Lay Associate.
  • Environmentalist.


In his book, Man's Search for Meaning the psychiastrist Viktor E. Frankl writes of experiencing unimaginable cruelties in a Nazi prison camp. One morning, nearly delierious from hunger, Frankl was ordered to dig a trench in the numbing cold. He struggled to find any shred of meaning for his relentless suffering, his slow dying. At that moment, a lamp it in a distant farmhouse. A thought crossed Frankl's mind, Et lux in tenebris lucet. "And the light shineth in the darkness." That bit of light signalled a life outside the brutal, seemingly meaningless world of the camp. "I sensed my spirit piercing through the enveloping gloom," Frankl wrote, "From somewhere I heard a victorious 'Yes' in answer to my question of the existence of an ultimate purpose."

Though the people who lived in the house might rightly be considered "the enemy", Frankl chose to focus on what connected him to these strangers: their common humanity. Frankl's distant lamp is a bit like the glimpses we see into the houses of strangers from a passing train. Both offer hope that we share far more that what separates us.

A few years ago, I began doing nightly what St. Ignatius of Loyola called the examen. It is a daily accounting of what I did well each day and of where I fell short. I also list all that happened that I'm grateful for. It's my favotie part of the examen. The funny thing about gratitude is, the more you focus on it, the more you find to be grateful for.

These days, I find myself more and more grateful for the most ordinary of moments-- when I look out on the ever-changing prarie as I drive each week from Chicago to Charley's and my home in Central Illinois. As I walk past our living room windows in the middle of the day and spot the sunlight sifting in through a latticework of branches. In those moments, I stop and remember how grateful Iam to be alive.

In the final scene of the film American Beauty, the main character, Lester Burnham, speaking from the grave, says he doesn't feel regret that he;s no longer alive, only intense gratitude "for every single moment of my stupid little life." Then he adds: "You have no idea what I'm talking about, I'm sure. But don't worry, someday you will."