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Thursday, May 23, 2024
The Observer

Anne Frank's words of wisdom


As college students who were used to daily freedom and spontaneity, suddenly being forced to return home due to COVID-19 was a difficult adjustment for us. Feeling disheartened by the unexpected changes, I turned to Anne Frank’s “Diary of a Young Girl,” hoping to be comforted by her ability to embrace life in hiding, during which she spent over two years in a tiny annex, unable to interact with the outside world, and facing threat of capture and execution daily — a much more difficult feat than the one we faced. Even though most of the Notre Dame community has now returned to South Bend, the campus feels foreign, and a great portion of Anne’s words still apply to our lives here today.

Between July 1942 and August 1944, Anne Frank lived with her parents, sister and four family friends in the annex behind her father’s former business building in the Netherlands as they hid from German occupying forces during World War II. Her diary, which she wrote between the ages of 13 and 15, is an incredible testament to the perseverance of life in dire circumstances.

“I want to go on living even after my death!” Anne wrote. Today, more than ever, her voice rings out as a companion and guide for us during these difficult times.

Today we must wear masks, stay six feet apart and reduce our in-person interactions. But as Anne writes, “One must be prepared to make some sacrifices for a good cause, so I shall make my little offering with a good will. ‘If we can save someone, then everything else is of secondary importance,’ says Daddy, and he’s absolutely right.”

So let us, too, make our little offerings with good will today. 

But Anne does not claim this is easy. After moving into the annex, Anne quickly grows bored and irritated at being cramped up with her family without escape. Early on, she writes, “There is nothing we can do but wait as calmly as we can till the misery comes to an end.”

As she spends months and months in hiding, she finds it increasingly more difficult to wait calmly. 

She yearns for “cycling, dancing, whistling, looking out into the world, feeling young, to know that I’m free ... I am simply a young girl badly in need of some rollicking fun.” This makes her all the more real to us today. Her experiences, which once seemed so foreign to our generation, are now much more relatable. She has become a guide, descended down from her historical realm to live among us who deeply miss the “rollicking fun” we loved. 

COVID-19 has taken from us so much of what we cherished: our loved ones, jobs and opportunities, time with friends, the freedom to experience the full college lifestyle. Many of us wrestled with feeling guilty for grieving our losses, after realizing the changes to college life were minimal compared to what many people worldwide are facing. When Elli, one of Mr. Frank’s employees, expressed her struggles to Mrs. Frank, Anne's mother says, “Try to think of all the other people who are in trouble!” Anne is appalled, writing, “What is the good of thinking of misery when one is already miserable oneself?”

Reading this is consoling. Anne isn’t encouraging us to think only of ourselves, but to recognize our own emotions. Only after we have acknowledged and mourned our own losses can we improve our outlook and work to make the most of the circumstances. 

Throughout her entries, Anne writes about frustration, embarrassment, sadness, joy, longing, love, envy and gratitude. Her triumph over the conditions to find teenage love, to reconcile her relationship with her mother and sister and to create a true literary masterpiece is an inspiration for us to make the most of every opportunity the circumstances allow.

Now that so many of us have returned to Notre Dame, we are able to take advantage of the resources that remain, especially outside on our beautiful campus. Anne Frank wrote about observing the blue sky, shining sun and breeze from her window, writing, “My advice is: ‘Go outside ... enjoy nature and the sunshine, go out and try to recapture happiness in yourself and in God. Think of all the beauty that’s still left in and around you and be happy!’”

From COVID-19, to the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement, to the presidential election, this year has brought, and will continue to bring, an upending of the world as we knew it. During a time in which our shared experience could have brought us closer together, it often feels as if our society is deepening the divide. But I will leave you with one last piece of advice from Anne, wise beyond her years, and encourage you to stay hopeful and to do all with love.

Anne Frank writes, “In spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart. I simply can’t build up my hopes on a foundation consisting of confusion, misery, and death. I see the world gradually being turned into a wilderness, I hear the ever approaching thunder, which will destroy us too, I can feel the sufferings of millions and yet, if I look up into the heavens, I think that it will all come right, that this cruelty too will end, and that peace and tranquility will return again.”