I finished reading The Diary of Anne Frank today. It only took me about 2 or 3 hours total (including my time spent yesterday and the few minutes I used to finish up today) to read the whole thing. Her words spoke to me, they filled me up, and forced me to turn page after page. Somebody asked me why I chose to read this particular book during FCAT week, and I have to say that, though I did not choose this timing, I could not have chosen a better one on my own. Somehow, serendipitously, my curriculum inserted Anne Frank into the year right now.
I remembered very little about the diary from my first read when I was much younger. I’m not even sure I can recall exactly what age I was when I did read it, but I do know that I could not have appreciated it as much as I now do. If it had moved me so much then, I would remember it more vividly.
You might find it strange that a “kids’ book” would affect someone like me so profoundly, but I will argue that Anne’s diary, though written by a child about the experiences of a child, is not a kids’ book. Yes, kids can learn a lot from it. Yes, kids should read it, but adults would be remiss to relegate it to the silly pastimes of younger generations. I am saddened by the fact that my school district is moving away from including The Diary of Anne Frank in its curriculum. ”It has absolutely no literary merit,” they say. ”It’s outdated, and kids won’t care about it enough to engage.” When I hear comments like these, I have to stop and wonder, wonder what has happened to the world. Then I look around. I look outside, and I listen to the people around me. I sit at Starbucks or on campus and simply observe, observe what our society has become: people who believe they are entitled to special treatment because they exist, people who care for nothing and no one outside of themselves, people who force their beliefs on others and criticize them for thinking differently, people who want to stop everyone from praying because they disagree with the words, people who do not have the respect to stand and recite the Pledge of Allegiance in the morning, people who are lost.
Sometimes I worry that I will grow older and want nothing to do with the world, that I will grow older and never want to have children who will have to live in the mess of society we are creating. Sometimes I think that everything is going wrong and that nothing will change. I guess, I have a tendency to see the worst sometimes even though I tell myself to focus on the good. It is on these times that I look back at my life and feel ashamed after reading this diary.
I have everything. I have my health, a mind capable of original and insightful thought. I have a family who loves me even on my darkest days, friends to whom I can turn when everything seems like too much for me to handle, a boyfriend who makes me smile and laugh every day. I have energy to chase my dreams and the freedom to let those dreams fly as far and wide as I can imagine. How is it that I can have all this and not appreciate it always when a child who had everything taken from her could still firmly say “It’s a wonder I haven’t abandoned all my ideals, they seem so absurd and impractical. Yet I cling to them because I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart” (July 15, 1944). Perhaps I have judged the world too harshly. Perhaps I have yet again found only the negative. Perhaps….
Yet, I still cannot shake the feeling that people are different now, that deep down at its core, society has changed. People do not know their neighbors anymore. People do not spend the time to understand those different from themselves. What has happened to the sense of community that should drive our society? Where has it gone? It’s no wonder so many kids sit at school and don’t care. Our society condones apathy and selfishness. As young Anne said, “we have many reasons to hope for great happiness, but . . . we have to earn it. And that’s something you can’t achieve by taking the easy way out. Earning happiness means doing good and working, not speculating and being lazy. Laziness may look inviting, but only work gives you true satisfaction” (July 6, 1944). Our society has lost this mentality, has lost this beautiful truth. Today, I feel like everyone looks for the easy way out, the path of least effort, of a quick payoff now. I see it. I see it every day, and I am appalled.
I do not mean to say that I am innocent of all of these acts. I’ll be the first to admit, in fact I’m positive I already have, that I often lose my own faith, my faith in the world, in my dreams, in my success, in myself. We all do at times, but one of the biggest lessons I have learned this past year is that, in Anne’s words, “I don’t want to live in vain like most people. I want to be useful or bring enjoyment to all people, even those I’ve never met. I want to go on living even after my death!” (April 5, 1944). In my words and the words of many before me, I want to change the world. I want to make a difference, to make something of my life rather than just pass time. I know that I will need to work for it, that I will need to stare obstacles in the face and press forward. I must know what I want and fight for it with everything that I have. I must not be afraid to try and fail. I have been so afraid for so long, and countless people have told me that my recent setbacks should have stopped me in my tracks and forced me down another path, but I know that I am stronger than that. Anne said it best: “To be honest, I can’t imagine how anyone could say ‘I’m weak’ and then stay that way. If you know that about yourself, why not fight it, why not develop your character?” (July 6, 1944). This is what I have learned this year. When things frighten me and when I feel that I cannot make it through, those are the best times, the times when I have the greatest opportunity to enhance myself, to become something greater than others or I ever thought I could. Challenges are inevitable, but they cannot be the end to every dream. I cannot let them steal my happiness and my fire. I have finally learned that “riches, prestige, everything can be lost. But the happiness in your own heart can only be dimmed; it will always be there, as long as you live, to make you happy again” (February 23, 1944).
Anne Frank was a child when her world turned upside down, when she lost everything. I am much older, but much less wise. I have learned from her words who I want to be and who I can be. She has taught me to believe.