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Writing, Breathing: Visiting the Anne Frank House

Writing, Breathing: Visiting the Anne Frank House

Yesterday, I visited the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam. Other than the Van Gogh Museum, it was the one place in the Netherlands where I knew I absolutely wanted to go.

I first read The Diary of a Young Girl when I was thirteen or so, around the same age Anne was when she went into hiding and started keeping her diary. Like many readers, I felt an instant connection with her. I had started writing poetry around this time as well, and reading about the fierce ambitions of a girl my age was profoundly inspiring. Even more pivotal for me, however, was the realization I gained from this book, which is that I need to write.

I have always written; I have stacks of journals and diaries in a box at my parents' house in California. They were the first thing I grabbed when we were evacuating a wildfire last December. Anne's diary was her most prized possession, too; she said it was the first item to go in her satchel when she was preparing to go into hiding from incoming Nazi troops.

It wasn't until I read The Diary of a Young Girl that I realized my writing could mean something. Could do something. Something important, even if that something is just helping me understand myself and thus making me a better person. It was the first time I understood writing in the context of my life, as self-actualization, as an essential part of who I am. 

Since reading that book, and even more so since starting this blog many years later, I have realized that writing is really the only way I can make sense of the world. I don't write out of a sense of obligation. I don't write to change the world, though that is a goal of mine. I don't even write because I like it. I write because I must. I write because, as my favorite author Roxane Gay said, "for me, writing is like breathing." I breathe. I write. It is what I do.

Anne Frank taught me that that though my writing, like my breathing, is merely a fact of my life, its power is not to be discounted. I will not pretend that my writing can ever have as great an impact on this world as Anne Frank's has. In some small way, however, my writing matters. It matters because even if no one reads it, that I am writing means that I am alive and breathing and existing as the fullest possible expression of myself. 

Every visitor to the Anne Frank House receives an audioguide at the entrance, which activates room by room to tell the complete story of the Secret Annex and everyone who lived there. On each audioguide, there is a quotation from a speech that the actress Emma Thompson gave upon visiting the Anne Frank House. It reads,

"All her would-haves are our opportunities."

I decided to move to Spain and write because those are the two things I would regret never doing if I were to die tomorrow. Too many people allow the would-haves to remain that way for their entire lives. Anne didn't even have the chance to let her dreams languish, though I doubt they would have had she survived the Holocaust. The rest of us have no excuse. We are here. She is not.

And so, I breathe. I write.

I can shake off everything as I write; my sorrows disappear, my courage is reborn.
— Anne Frank
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