Sunday, April 20, 2014

Re-reading The Diary of Anne Frank in Adulthood (& Other Musings)...

I didn't post last week, I know. Let's just pretend the last ten days didn't happen, then. Now we'll start anew.

I adore this picture of Anne. She looks so happy and alive,
the way I wish she'd had more of a chance to be.

I re-read The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank recently, for the first time since I was 16. I knew I'd liked it back then, but for some reason, except for the basics, the only thing I could really remember about it was something about the families in the "secret annex" (Anne's name for their attic hideaway) cooking sausage. My brain is on weird terms with reality, I think. 

One of the first things that struck me in this re-read was how imperfect Anne is. I realize that this seems like a given -- she was a person, after all, and also, a teenager. But the thing about a tragic death is that we tend to put the dead on a pedestal, and with Anne Frank, that's no different. She was and is one of the most well-known voices of the Holocaust. But Anne was very much a 14 year old girl. She could be bratty, arrogant, but also insightful and funny. She tried to be good, but often talked about hating her mother. She could be full of herself in such a humorous way, giving details of all the books she was reading and all the languages she was learning, as well as flippantly remarking that so many of the boys in her pre-hideaway class were in love with her, so much so that: "I have strings of boy friends, anxious to catch a glimpse of me and who, failing that, peep at me through mirrors in class."

The other thing that struck me about Anne is that she wasn't always strong. She held it together well, adapting to the new reality of being stuck in this attic with people who she hadn't originally known very well -- and I include her own family in that observation - but she goes through some pretty intense bouts of depression. The lack of light and freedom sometimes gets to her so much and she writes about feeling like a coward because of it: "I'm currently in the middle of a depression. I couldn't really tell you what set it off, but I think it stems from my cowardice, which confronts me at every turn." I don't agree with her that she was a coward -- not at all -- but I think it's such an accurate look at being depressed: we don't always think the most rational thoughts, thoughts based on evidence, when we're feeling especially melancholy and down on ourselves. I also think that most would agree that Anne's depression was understandable, more than likely situation-related, and that it made her all the more heroic for facing those moments. Because, while I would never say that Anne was a perfect person, the way we often see people that we might describe as martyrs, she was heroic: She awoke daily and kept going. She kept writing and she observed everyone and everything as much as she could. She worked really hard in the editing process of her diary, actually hoping that someday it might be published. And she kept on seeing beauty in the world, even when she couldn't be an active part of that world. 


Now I am re-reading C.S. Lewis's The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe, another book I haven't read in YEARS and it's kind of strange to be reading it now, just as the weather is turning warmer. Narnia is, after all, so cold and snowy. I often think, on winter nights when there is a full moon and it shimmers off new snow, that it feels like Narnia -- especially on holidays, when the streets are semi-abandoned because everyone seems to be at home with their families. I forgot how magical this book is, and maybe it's re-reading all these stories that I read as a young child or as an adolescent, but I keep finding myself longing for the green fields of North Carolina and the quiet and nature, the dogwood and magnolia trees and the early warmth of spring. Chicago is finally turning, and I'm turning with it, though to what, I'm still not sure. I'm juggling a lot of thoughts and changes right now -- declining friendships, learning to move on from much of what's happened in the years since I've been back in Chicago, learning to re-focus and motivate myself. I've been fairly obsessed with self-help literature and working on me between therapy sessions, and I find that I like talking about that. I'm opening up. Blossoming somewhat, which may sound a bit hokey, but feels accurate. Next week is my birthday, it's spring and this is only the beginning. 

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