That’s how many days Anne Frank spent hidden from the Nazi’s from 1942-1944 when she was captured, sent to two concentration camps, and died of Typhus. She was given a diary on her 13th birthday, and she filled pages with observations of her 2 years and 46 days in the Secret Annex, her warehouse attic shelter in Amsterdam. I wonder if high schoolers still read The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank, a collection of haunting reflections of the day-to-day mundacity of being sheltered from an ever-threatening world.
I studied abroad from 1983-1984, and at Christmastime, my friend Martha and I traversed Europe on a Eurail Pass. We traveled from London to Brussels (most noted for the fountain produced by a young boy’s urine) and then to Amsterdam.
Most college kids who’ve been to this amazing city tell drug and Red Light district stories. Not us. We focused on our list of must sees. After staring at Rembrandt’s Nightwatch in the Rijksmuseum, we ventured to the Anne Frank House where I was captivated by the descriptions of the Franks – Anne, Margot, Edith and Otto – and those invited by Otto Frank – Hermann, Auguste, and Peter van Pels along with Fritz Pfeiffer. We learned about those who helped them, those gutsy enough to supply food, toiletries, reading material, and updates on the War. Martha and I spent half a day studying every nook and cranny of the minimalist space as we tried to imagine adolescence in complete confinement with limited connection to the outside world.
My life has always been one of liberty. My parents were strict, but I could come and go – as long as I was home for dinner by 5:30. Today, with below zero temperatres and a casted ankle, I read what I want, sing my heart out, noisily wheel around from room to room, and hoist my cast upon ottomans strategically placed for elevation and icing. All just for me. I do not share a rigid bathroom schedule with seven other people. My days of living with six other people are over. My kids are grown. Through large windows, I revere daily sunrises and sunsets – very confident that I’ll be around for the view tomorrow. I’m visited by our usual critters – turkeys, raccoons, possums, deer, and other unidentifiable four-footed friends.
Anne Frank had no such visitors and no glimpse of the subtly delightful shifts of nature and weather. Technology consisted of hushed, crackly radio broadcasts. Silence-filled hours tolled the passage of the day. She wrote that she longed to be outside, to be free from the entrapment of the attic, to scream, to talk loudly, to tell her mother what she really thnks, to fall in love.
I think about the last 335 days – give or take a few days – of the pandemic, and I wonder what Anne Frank would say about Covid-19. Would she write about her desire to get back to school? To be with her classmates? Would she note the rhythms of the seasons and the infected number count, the pulse of the newsfeeds, the bravery of frontline workers, the perseverence of the vaccine researchers? Would she see this as a chance to deepen relationships that matter most? Would she consider this a time of deep reflection, a time of hope for what unfolds, a time for societal change? What would she document?
I suspect she would speak her truth. What is yours? Do you have the courage to share it like she did?
And I wonder what advice Anne Frank would give us from the grave.