Diamonds, Born Under Pressure

Today’s NaBloPoMo prompt reminds me of a journal activity I used for many years as an ice-breaker during the first week of school: what decade would you like to time-travel to and why? There are some obvious choices for me, mostly clustered around groundbreaking periods in literature and the arts; I would love to see a Shakespearean production in the original Globe or drink absinthe in Paris with the Fitzgeralds or sit and watch The Winged Victory of Samothrace emerge painstakingly from a solid block of marble.

Image by Lee Sandstead

That all just seems so cliche, though, and I may as well say I’d have lunch with John Lennon. In truth, the decades most fascinating to me are the ones containing human atrocities: circumstances so extraordinary as to function like a sieve such that characters with true grit rise to the surface as a beacon to the floundering masses. I’m not sure ‘grit’ is even the right word for some of these inspirational figures but, perhaps, a rare wisdom, a bright and impervious spirit that responds to tumult with constancy and optimism. You know the ones–Martin Luther King Jr., Jesus Christ, Mahatma Gandhi, and among them, my beloved Anne Frank. One of my mantras through this whole struggle and in life in general has been her gentle encouragement to us all,

Think of all the beauty still left around you and be happy.

I know…I KNOW it hasn’t seemed from my bloggy history that I have embraced this philosophy, but truly, in my life (versus the page, which I use to work out the dark and ugly stuff I have to keep under wraps to function day to day) I focus a lot of my energy on seeing beauty in small things, in all things: a fresh oyster, a massage, a sunset, a snuggle with my dog when she’s not driving me nuts, a healthy jog under a blue sky, a soft blanket, the sound of my husband’s heartbeat when I lay my head on his chest, the yummy warmth that radiates from crown to toes in shavasana, a blooming hydrangea, crashing in bed after a day of happy exhaustion, a breeze-blown curtain, a hot cup of coffee shared with a good girlfriend, the smell of a new notebook, music. After all, despite fanatical Germans, confinement, and an omnipresent threat against her very life, Anne Frank found levity and joy in darkness by watching a tree bloom from the vantage of her annex window, season to season, year after year.

Anne Frank’s Chestnut Tree (Image by Jeroen Eilenbach)

So, yeah, this is a girl I’d like to meet because, even in her youth and inexperience, she understood something so critical yet easily obscured by trials and trivialities, and it was only through tragedy that the strength and insight leaping off the pages of a little girl’s diary arrived at the literary world’s center-stage and in our hands. I love this speech by Emma Thompson, who says all of this and more better than I can:

And for the vast majority of you who won’t bother to watch (Lazy!) I’ll leave you with this little excerpt:

I’m convinced that her confinement made her even more alive and truthful and humorous and humane…I think if she’d lived she would have written books; she would have helped others; she would have used her extraordinary intelligence to organize our thoughts about the world; I think she would have loved generously and without prejudice; I think she would have had great courage; I think she would have spoken up for the dispossessed; and I think that she would have tried to storm the invisible barriers that separate human beings and keep us in such conflict, so what I say now is the only thing we have to remember is that all her would-haves are our real possibilities. All her would-haves are our opportunities, and the book’s a flame, a torch; we can light our own candles and take them and illuminate our hearts with the incandescence of her spirit.


6 thoughts on “Diamonds, Born Under Pressure

  1. It always astounds me that Anne was so young and yet so astute. I suppose that going through so much more adversity in her short life than most people in their long lives has a lot to do with it. We all spend so much time avoiding the icky stuff that we don’t know what to do when we run into it; better that we be like Anne and live through the darknesses by finding happiness in any tiny spark of light.


  2. I love your list of the little things that bring us beauty and joy. I try to notice all of those things in my life every day.


  3. Pingback: Speaking of the Chestnut Tree | The Empress and the Fool

  4. Pingback: Day That Shall Not Be Name | The Empress and the Fool

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