- Writer’s Retreat: Four rooms, shared with eight individuals of various ages and temperaments. Share bedroom with one moody middle aged gentleman. Small child’s metal desk in corner provided. All curtains drawn during daylight, windows blackened in the evening. Music not permitted. No walking or activity between the hours of 8am and 5pm. Sunlight and fresh air limited; can be taken in occasionally from attic skylight. Must stay for two years. Only serious inquiries, please.
Yet, from this “retreat” came The Diary of Anne Frank—and eventually more than 18 million copies printed in 52 languages. After the Bible, it is believed to be the most widely read book in the world. Why has this diary so impacted the world? That question has been addressed by many writers far more qualified than I, so I will narrow the question down considerably. Why has this book so impacted me?
I read the diary in junior high school, when I was the age of Anne Frank, but reread it several years ago with greater interest. Journaling had become very important in my life over the past few decades. The contents of my first book, “One Family’s Journey through Alzheimer’s,” published by Tyndale House in November of 2000, came directly from the contents of eight years of journaling.
After reading the book the second time I was deeply moved. But the greater impact was to be felt one month later.
The following is from my journal, October 11, 2001.
"It's utterly impossible for me to build my life on a foundation of chaos, suffering and death. I see the world being slowly transformed into a wilderness, I hear the approaching thunder that, one day, will destroy us too, I feel the suffering of millions. And yet, when I look up at the sky, I somehow feel that everything will change for the better, that this cruelty too shall end, that peace and tranquility will return once more. In the meantime, I must hold on to my ideals. Perhaps the day will come when I'll be able to realize them!"
Yours, Anne M. Frank
This is, in my estimation the most powerful quote in Ann Franke's diary.
Today is the one month anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the twin towers, the Pentagon, and the downing of a passenger plane in PA. We are being warned by the FBI that there is cause to believe there could be another attack within the next few days.
I marvel at how our world has been transformed since I read this in The Dairy of Anne Frank a little over a month ago. At the time, I tried to put myself in her place; living in dread of being discovered, hearing the bombing raids night and day. I closed the book, savoring the great freedom I have enjoyed all of my life. Now suddenly we have, in a very real way, lost some of that freedom. No, we are not enclosed in a four room hiding place, but hemmed in by fear of the unknown—possible imminent evil plans of these terrorists.
In a very real way "I feel the suffering of".. thousands; people whose bodies will never be recovered, their families grieving, reeling from the utter shock of their loss.
I honestly do not fear for myself. The Lord is my shepherd and it is under the shadow of His wings that I reside.
The tendency I have felt, as others have is to put life on hold. Everything seems so insignificant in the light of all these tragic events. But reading Anne's journal has encouraged me to press on in striving for those goals I had previously set—continue writing. I was amazed at the reading and studying that took place within those four walls in those two years. Ann's father provided an uninterrupted stream of materials for her and her sister to study. Their response could have been to despond and stop living, but instead they continued to live as best they could, with as much structure as possible, under such adverse conditions.
No, there was not a happy ending, quite the contrary; but that does not render her journal less instructive. It is the very fact that her journal came to an abrupt close that speaks volumes to our world—the profound reality of the evil mankind is capable of.
There is so much to be learned through it.
Now, years later, I find myself thinking about the diary once again. I believe there are several important lessons, especially for writers, to be gleaned from Anne’s words and example.
A cabin in the woods, bungalow on a tropical beach—although either one sounds mighty inviting to me—is not essential to peace of mind and creativity. In “annex” settings, writing becomes the sandy beach—the very necessary diversion for survival.
Although most will never endure such a horrendous ordeal, we all go through our own inescapable “annex” experiences. Situations where we feel like victims—we did not ask for it, we did not cause it, but here we are. When serious illness strikes a loved one, divorce tears a precious family apart, or any number of serious life crises takes over our life and attention, we are enclosed in our own “annex,” unsure how we will survive— if we will survive.
Courage, as clearly demonstrated by the Frankes is moving on despite despair. Certainly Anne and her family displayed remarkable courage. The example of Otto Franke, Anne’s father, providing his daughters with books and a continuous supply of learning materials was admirable. It was courageous in view of their uncertain future.
Writing, at times becomes a courageous act. It is not easy—but it becomes essential to survival. And survival writing, often escapes the confines, travels freely into the future and finds its place in the hearts and minds of others in need of what you have learned while residing within that annex experience.
Anne Franke did not know that her diary would be freed from the annex. But she hoped, and steadfastly recorded her thoughts and dreams, until the evil they feared overcame them and led them to their dreadful end.
—But that was not the end after all, was it?
Her words could not be captured, abused or exterminated but traveled freely into the future, and have impacted the lives of millions of readers.
Dreaming of that cabin in the woods? Dream about it, yes—but it may never become a reality. Sit yourself down at that little metal desk in the corner and dare to write. No music allowed? Play it loudly within your heart and soul. Music, just as the written word is a medium that transcends circumstance. Prayer, music and the written word; three powerful mediums, that cannot be contained, each with power to impact and change lives. Perhaps that is why the great hymns, a combination of all three, have come through the ages and still lift the spirit above circumstance. They transcended the bondage of the cotton fields, freeing the spirits of the slaves.
Curtains drawn and everything appears dreary? Writing will let some needed sunlight in. It will take courage, but you will be the victor in the long run.
—And time will only tell how many others may benefit.