Anne Frank was a vivacious teenager and a keen observer of human nature. She wrote well and her diary often includes deft characterizations of schoolmates, family, and the other people in hiding with her family. When I recently reread her famous diary in preparation for visiting her family’s hiding place in Amsterdam, I was impressed by her lively mind.
Initially, she wrote to sort out her feelings—the same impulse that has prompted me to keep a journal off and on since I was a teenager. Putting my feelings into words helps me understand them. Airing out something on the page calms me and enables me to move on.
At first, Anne Frank meant her diary to be private. When she was 15, she heard a radio broadcast about a Dutch official who wanted to collect war stories and experiences, so she edited her diary in hopes it might be published one day. Unlike Anne Frank, I don’t want my journals shared with others. They’re histories of cranky confusion, and without context, they would likely distress family or friends once I’m gone and can’t explain.
After her family went into hiding, her diary also served as a record of how they lived—what their space looked like, what their meals were, and what their daily schedule was. As the war intensified, she recorded bombing raids and news updates.
Shortly after I finished the Anne Frank book, my sister asked me to refresh her memory about our great great grandmother—Katherine O’Tanney Feeley who emigrated from Ireland in the late 1800’s. To answer, I searched handwritten notes from my mother and father—a story here, a date and detail there. Some of the notes are sketchy and incomplete, but I decided I would make sense of them in a Word document so others in my family will have a record.
Anne Frank’s story has touched millions all over the world in the decades since she wrote it. I have no such expectation for the family record I’m assembling. All I have are snippets of stories, not much to go on. Perhaps a few family members will have a mild interest. Hearing about people you never knew (even if they’re related to you) can be boring.
I’m fascinated by the urge to write journals and record family histories. Beyond that is the widespread wish to share the content of our days on social media or like I’m doing with this blog. People across all eras and cultures have felt this fierce need to tell our stories and understand who we are and who we came from. Sometimes we’re saying, “Here’s what happened.” Other times the wish to share is a way of saying, “I’m here. I matter.”
Anne Frank could not have imagined how much her story would matter or how many readers would be touched by her words.
Although my intentions and hopes for my writing differ from Anne Frank’s, I feel a kinship with that young woman born almost a century ago.