A lot of people want to write. A lot of people think they have a book inside them bursting to get out. A lot more people think they do than do.
Once upon a time, however, there was a child who dreamed of being a writer. She just knew that she had a book inside her. She wanted more than anything else to make a difference in the world with the written world. But there were some very bad people in the world that were determined to stamp out people like this little girl and prevent people like her from spreading their ideas of peace and love. They would stop at nothing.
Eventually, they killed the young girl. But it didn’t stop her. Her words had already been put to paper, in the form of a diary and her diary survived the terrible Holocaust that swept Europe in the twentieth century. The words of Anne Frank have been heard and read and reread. Her story has been told. She has made a difference in this world.
I visited the house this week in Amsterdam and stood in the tiny windowless room where, for two years, she and her family and three of her family friends hid from the Nazis. Their crime — being born Jewish.
I had first read her story when I was in the seventh grade. That was 1965. She had been only been dead 21 years. By contrast, 9/11 was 18 years ago. My point is, the Holocaust and World War II was recent history when I was in the seventh grade, but I really didn’t know or understand that much about it. I knew lots of World War II veterans — men with empty sleeves that worked in the mill in Porterdale and went about their lives and never talked about their experiences or their sacrifices. I knew more about the Battle of Gettysburg when I was 13 than I knew about the Battle of the Bulge.
So I realized, when I read the Diary of Anne Frank, that it was a sad and horrible story, but it wasn’t until much later in my life that I understood the full implications of what Adolph Hitler and his henchmen tried to do — and actually did.
I do now. I have seen Dachau. I have experienced Auschwitz. Dachau is horrible and sobering. I don’t have words to describe the horrors of Auschwitz or the people who would carry out the insane orders that were carried out there — or in the Jewish ghettos of Warsaw or France or Germany or Amsterdam or any of the other places that evil visited during the reign of terror Hitler’s henchmen perpetrated upon the Earth.
And yet through it all, in a 12x14-foot space, three stories above the busy streets of Amsterdam, Holland, a 14-year-old girl, give or take, recorded her thoughts about life and living and though she, naturally, complained about being cramped up inside a secret hideaway borrowed from her father’s friends and having to share sleeping quarters with a grown man and not being able to look out the window for fear of being seen or to go to school with her friends or to go outside for two years — she really missed getting to go outside — Anne Frank still wrote beautifully about life, not death.
She wrote about hope and how life could be, and not how it was. She wrote about hopes and dreams and a better world and a better life. She wrote with a beauty and wisdom that belied her years.
Let me give you an example or three. Anne Frank wrote, while hiding out from the people who would eventually find her, take her to Auschwitz and end her life:
“In spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart.”
I want to believe that, too, and I needed that reminder.
She also wrote, “Think of all the beauty left around you and be happy.” And a little child shall lead them. Store that one up and pull it out and use it on a rainy day.
“The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere where they can be quite alone with the heavens, nature and God.” She was 14, y’all, when she wrote that.
A lot of people think they can write. Anne Frank could, and I thank God that not even the Nazis were able to deprive us of her genius. I don’t mind sharing that as I stood in the little room where this young girl sat and wrote the musings of her heart I read her words, that had been transcribed upon the walls of the house, tears streamed down my face.
My favorite sentence was this one.
“How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.”
I think we should get started.