I have been remiss in writing this newsletter for some time. Fall teaching at Columbia Business School and a few other projects kept me preoccupied over the last few months, so I am glad to have the opportunity to close out this tumultuous year with this final note to us all.
When my daughter Mrinalini was twelve, she discovered the Diary of Anne Frank. The book had an instant and deep impact on her, and the two – Mrinalini and Anne Frank’s Diary – became inseparable. She would keep the book by her bedside, and carry it around with her. Once I asked her why the book had to go along with us when we were going out for a walk. She was hugging the book more than holding it. She whispered to me, conspiratorially, “People think this is Anne Frank’s Diary. It isn’t. This is Anne Frank. She is my friend, and I take her wherever I go.”
So in this year of the pandemic, as many of us were forced to live with social isolation, I decided to dust this book off the shelf and read how Anne Frank coped with her years in hiding during the Second World War. Perhaps there would be lessons to learn from her trials for us too, I speculated.
Even Mrinalini’s adoration hadn’t prepared me for what I experienced. Anne was a revelation. I now place the results of my investigation in your hands, in the article below. I hope her journey will provide as much upliftment to you as it has to me. I do not hug the book, but yes, Anne Frank now is my friend too, and I take her in my heart wherever I go.
A picture is worth a thousand words. I am indebted to Mrinalini for making the sketch of Anne Frank that accompanies the article.
I would love to hear from you – on how the year has gone for you, on your thoughts about this newsletter or our Intersections webcast, or, if you are a soothsayer, on when exactly the vaccines will vanquish the vexing virus. So do write back from time to time.
Wishing you peace and prosperity as we pass on from the pause of 2020 to the possibilities of 2021.
© Hitendra Wadhwa, 2020
This holiday season, we can learn so much about our own selves from the diary of a thirteen-year-old, not simply from the suffering she bore but the happiness she cultivated, not simply from her outer chaos but her inner clarity, and not simply from her tempestuous relationships but her tranquil heart.
Note: Anne Frank was thirteen when she and her family were forced into hiding in 1942 in a Secret Annex of a building in Amsterdam to escape the persecution of Jews by Nazi Germany. She lived in that confined space with her parents, sister, and four other people for two years, writing about her experiences and reflections in her diary, before the residents were finally found and arrested. Anne Frank’s Diary was published after the end of World War II and continues to receive international acclaim.
What would you do if you were forced into lockdown in a small living space, with people you didn’t always get along with, for month upon month, as the world outside seemed to careen out of control? This year, my mind often drifted to Anne Frank and her tumultuous years in the Secret Annex. I wondered what we might learn from her journey given the disruptions our lives have experienced; after all, her conditions were much worse, and she was only thirteen. So finally, over the holidays, I picked up and read Anne Frank’s Diary, and emerged shaken and stirred in ways much deeper than I had anticipated.
There is a lively, endearing, human side to Anne that struggles not just with a stormy outer world but also a stormy inner world. She has just turned into a teenager, is finding her own voice and being rebellious. This is an Anne we can all relate to. But there is also the spiritual, soaring, heroic side to Anne that reflects, loves, learns, thrives and grows. She cultivates a pure heart, envisions her future impact on the world, and finds her true self lying deep within. This is an Anne we can all be inspired by.
In the first several months of her hiding, Anne struggles with anxiety, depression and fear.
I’ve been taking valerian every day to fight the anxiety and depression, but it doesn’t stop me from being even more miserable the next day…Sometimes I’m afraid my face is going to sag with all this sorrow and that my mouth is going to permanently droop at the corners…My nerves often get the better of me, especially on Sundays; that’s when I really feel miserable.
The atmosphere is stifling, sluggish, leaden. Outside, you don’t hear a single bird, and a deathly, oppressive silence hangs over the house and clings to me as if it were going to drag me into the deepest regions of the underworld. At times like these, Father, Mother and Margot [Anne’s sister] don’t matter to me in the least. I wander from room to room, climb up and down the stairs and feel like a songbird whose wings have been ripped off and who keeps hurling itself against the bars of its dark cage. “Let me out, where there’s fresh air and laughter!” a voice within me cries. I don’t even bother to reply anymore, but lie down on the divan. Sleep makes the silence and the terrible fear go by more quickly, helps pass the time, since it’s impossible to kill it.
But in the midst of the tumult, she strives to gain dominion over her emotional life.
The Annex is an ideal place to hide in. It may be damp and lopsided, but there’s probably not a more comfortable hiding place in all of Amsterdam.
We just had a third air raid. I decided to grit my teeth and practice being courageous.
Last night I went downstairs in the dark, all by myself, after having been there with Father a few nights before. I stood at the top of the stairs while German planes flew back and forth, and I knew I was on my own, that I couldn’t count on others for support. My fear vanished. I looked up at the sky and trusted in God.
Her small steps toward inner mastery, over time, become big leaps, and near the end of her two years in hiding, she observes with some satisfaction the progress she has made. (Click below to continue reading.)
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