“We all live with the objective of being happy, our lives are all different and yet the same.” (A. Frank)
I waited in line for two hours in the rain with my family this past weekend in Amsterdam to see Anne Frank’s House. The line stretched all the way around the corner and down the block. It was phenomenal. Even after all these years. What was that about? There are monuments all around the world to people who have suffered and sacrificed. Why was this one so special? Why did people stand in line so long?
After I got over the dark, narrow stairs, the moving bookcase, the tiny, cramped corners, the shaded windows, I began focusing not so much on the physical evidence of her suffering, but the psychological achievement of her writing. Of course, it is the diary that became famous for obvious reasons. A transcript of childhood sprinkled with the hopes and dreams of a child laced with the fears and anxieties that no child, nor human, should ever experience but on far too many occasions still do. What made it pertinent, I guess, was that my six year old daughter was there with me and I can only imagine how she would have come to terms as a person in that situation. Would she have written her thoughts in the way that Anne did? Would she have developed any coping mechanism if she were shut off from the world in such a way?
“Parents can only give good advice or put them on the right paths, but the final forming of a person’s character lies in their own hands.” (A. Frank)
In a video at the end of the exhibit (Anne’s father Otto actually lived until 1980 and died in Basel), he says, “What I learned most of all from this experience was that you as a parent can never really know your child even though you think you do.” In spite of all the time together, in that space, over years, to imagine that your child’s experience, learning, and expression can still be so elusive, a voice so independent and even unnoticeable that a parent may not recognize it, I found fascinating.
My walk away? There are few things more valuable in the human experience than the desire to express, and the lengths to which a person, even in perilous danger, will go to carry that out. I left that day, watching my daughter clutching her diary in the rain, hoping that in spite of what might be happening at school and in spite of my flawed parenting, that she never, ever lose that spirit that burned in Anne for so long and has given the rest of us hope.