“I don't think of all the misery, but of the beauty that still remains.”
-Anne Frank, The Diary of a Young Girl
Too often we see Anne Frank as an avatar for misery and tragedy, but I do not believe the young girl who kept her diary while hidden from Nazis in an attic would want to be remembered that way. Yes, what happened to Anne Frank was a horror - one of the great horrors of modern times (a horror not as singular as we like to pretend) - but the lessons Anne leaves us shouldn't make us feel sad or defeated. They're lessons of hope.
In The Fault In Our Stars Hazel, a terminally ill girl, shares her first kiss with bohunk Gus in Anne Frank's attic. Cancer has left Hazel's lungs barely functional, and the steps and ladders needed to get to the hideaway push the young girl to the very limits of her endurance. But standing there, before the images of the Frank family and the words of Anne herself, surrounded by other tourists, Hazel is suddenly overcome and kisses Gus, a deep and loving kiss that slowly draws the applause of everyone else in the attic.
To Badass contributor Britt Hayes this was in bad taste, but I found the scene absolutely moving and beautiful. It was one of the many scenes in The Fault In Our Stars that brought tears to my eyes, even though like many of the film's best parts it's a little on the nose and broad. Of course that's part of the film's weepy pleasure.
I understand where Britt - and others who hate this scene - are coming from. And maybe the applauding is a bit much, I'll grant them that (although I love it). But I think they're coming from a fundamental misunderstanding of what we should take from Anne Frank, and I think that Hazel and Gus - two kids who, like Anne, spend their adolesences looking at a death sentence - take exactly the right message from that attic.
“I don't want to have lived in vain like most people. I want to be useful or bring enjoyment to all people, even those I've never met. I want to go on living even after my death!”
The world is harsh. It is ugly and cruel. But within that ugliness, amidst all that misery, are little moments of human beauty and connection. It's been many years since I last read The Diary of a Young Girl, but one of the aspects of the book which most impacted me was Anne's almost unflagging optimism and belief in decency. Yes, the story of Anne Frank shakes us, as it should, but the deeper takeaway isn't what was done to her but how she faced it - most often with courage and good faith. It's easy to connect Anne Frank only with the Holocaust, but that removes the whole meaning of Anne Frank - it isn't specific to Jewish people or Amsterdam or World War II... or even to young girls. It's about all of us, about the ways that we can aspire to face the pain of the world with good spirits and hope.
“I love you, with a love so great that it simply couldn't keep growing inside my heart, but had to leap out and reveal itself in all its magnitude.”
In recent years new editions of The Diary of a Young Girl have met with controversy because they restore some of Anne Frank's more sexual musings; after all, she was a teenage girl going through puberty when she was locked away in that attic. Her diary was the place where she could open up about the feelings that were taking hold of her, feelings that are familiar to everyone who has ever been fifteen. Feelings that are familiar to Hazel and Gus. To demand that Anne Frank's attic be a somber place of misery is giving in to the forces in the world that create that misery. “Look at how a single candle can both defy and define the darkness," Frank wrote.
It's easy to find sadness in the story of Anne Frank, but we must also take hope and love. We have to look at the life of this brave girl as a reminder that we are all going to die, and that we should take the moments of happiness given to us when we get them. The best reaction to horror is to seek love, to embrace happiness. Anne Frank didn't die in the Anne Frank House - she lived there.
I've quoted Anne Frank a few times here, but there's one thing she wrote that, more than anything, sums up why I don't just love the attic scene in The Fault In Our Stars, I love the way everyone applauds:
“Whoever is happy will make others happy.”