So here I am for twenty minutes—the amount of time I can concentrate these days. I spend most of my time being distracted, touching my face, trying not to touch my face, or else washing my hands. A lot of time is wasted on mortality. Mine and the people I love. Charting the course of the disease in Italy. Every time I type corona virus I can’t believe I’m not writing an apocalyptic novel, speculating on end-of-the-world scenarios.
I also meditate on how quickly life can change.
And how puny some problems seem compared to now.
We learn a lot when forged in the fire of uncertainty. Like the importance of friends and family. Stuff we used to take for granted. Stuff we always thought would be there, we see how quickly it disappears like toilet paper on a grocery shelf. This is a metaphor—but also a literal analogy.
Which reminds me of Anne Frank. Every step of the way Otto Frank was thinking ahead. He had proactively moved his family from Germany to Amsterdam in 1933 when Anne was 4 years old. Almost ten years later he knew things were going to get worse and built the hidden bookcase to hide the doorway to their secret annex apartment. He threw neighbors off their trail by planting false narratives about where the family went.
Anne had been keeping a diary since shortly going into hiding. Kitty was a best friend Anne could confide in. Then during the course of the war and their exile the diary took on further importance—it became her civic duty to record their humdrum quiet lives in the Secret Annex.
Over the radio an appeal from the Dutch Minister Bolkestein, asking the Dutch people to hold on to any papers that would illustrate what they were going through under the German Occupation. Everyone knew that one day the war would be over and that it was important to have an idea of what it was like for the ordinary civilian, for those still able to bike and walk along the canals, shop, and go to work. Upon hearing this Anne was inspired to publish her diary and began to go through her entries with the idea of a reading public in mind. She continued to record their life as well as edit past entries.
This was a bold move for a fifteen-year old girl. Most would have thought: He means papers from important people, the adults, the rich—not a teenage Jew in hiding. But, Anne immediately realized the value of her words, her unique situation during the war. Not that she didn’t have her doubts:
‘I really believe, Kits, that I’m slightly bats today, and yet I don’t know why. Everything here is so mixed up, nothing’s connected any more, and sometimes I very much doubt whether in the future anyone will be interested in all my tosh.
“The unbosomings of an ugly duckling” will be the title of all this nonsense. My diary really won’t be much use to Messrs. Bolkestein or Gerbrandy (members of Dutch cabinet, ed.).
Friday 14 April 1944
And thank God she did continue. The diary was all that was left of the family when Otto Frank returned from the camps after the war. His employee and trusted friend Miep gave it to him. When the Germans raided the Secret Annex and rounded up the refugees hiding there they searched for money, things they could sell, whatever looked valuable. They left scattered on the floor pieces of the diary that Miep collected and saved, always hoping Anne would one day come back.
Who knew then how important a young girls musings would become?
The Diary of a Young Girl has sold more than 30 million copies, is required reading in many schools, and has been translated into more than 70 languages. The building where she hid draws over a million visitors each year.
So during this puzzling time write down your fears, the awfulness of being cooped up, of seeing Mom and Dad lose their jobs, stay at home, of everyone going stir-crazy—even the dog. Write about your feelings, what you see, the color of the sky, of how spring came despite the warnings to stay inside, to social distance. Write about your grandma and grandpa. You have an important job to do and that is to record everything.