2.16.2010

What a Young Jewish Girl Has To Do With Lent

Last night around ten o'clock, I finished reading Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl. The house was quiet, and once I turned off my reading lamp, dark. The children had long been in bed. Husband was deep in slumber. I couldn't sleep at all. I tossed and turned and felt very small, very alone in a big, wide, and sometimes cruel world.

The book itself didn't move me so much. The book itself wasn't what kept me awake. It was interesting; certainly very well-written and articulate; a valuable historical record of one experience of the war. But mostly it was the diary of a fourteen- (and then fifteen-) year-old girl, full of teenage angst, puppy love, and squabbles with parents. What moved me more than the entries themselves was the arc of Anne's story that unfolded outside her diary. She hid with her family in "the house behind" for about two years. The Gestapo discovered and imprisoned them in August 1944 -- after the D-Day invasion, but several months before the liberation of all Europe. Anne Frank and her sister Margot died of typhus in March 1945 at Belsen concentration camp. The camp was liberated just weeks later on April 15, 1945. Anne Frank's story happened, with variations on a theme, six million times to other Jews, and five million times to gentile civilians also exterminated by the Nazis during World War II. That's the cruel world showing its face right there.

There several entries in the book that did strike a chord with me, however, and one in particular that I've been mulling over all day. It's her entry from Wednesday, May 3, 1944, and it goes like this:

"I don't believe that the big men, the politicians and the capitalists alone, are guilty of the war. Oh no, the little man is just as guilty, otherwise the peoples of the world would have risen in revolt long ago! There's in people simply an urge to destroy, an urge to kill, to murder and rage, and until all mankind, without exception, undergoes a great change, wars will be waged, everything that has been built up, cultivated, and grown will be destroyed and disfigured, after which mankind will have to begin all over again."

I happen to agree with Anne Frank's perspective on war, and have often thought that war really begins under every single roof in this world. It begins with the way we love our children, with the way we teach them to manage conflict, with the things we teach them about people who are (or who appear to be) "different" than we are, with the things we teach them about power, with whether or not they learn compassion -- that old-mile long walk in someone else's shoes -- at our knees. It begins with the atmosphere in the family: is it overwhelmingly an atmosphere of war or of peace? In our little family, I think the atmosphere is mostly a peaceful one. But there's always room for improvement.

Which brings me to Lent.

In Western Christianity, Lent is a period of preparation -- through prayer, repentance, sacrifice, and almsgiving -- for the commemoration of the Passion and Resurrection of Christ during Holy Week and Easter. (Word-lovers out there: the word Lent comes from the Old English word for spring). Over time, the Church has focused less on giving up, say, chocolate, and has encouraged, for lack of a better phrase, the "doing of something extra" during Lent to bring the believer into closer relationship with God. Of course, there is no reason not to do something extra during any other time of the year, but being mere humans, we get into our ruts. I, for one, find it helpful to have a season set aside during which I pause, reflect, and think about what I could do better. For me, in my own personal brand of spirituality, I am more apt to set aside the issue of the God-concept, and focus on doing something that will bring about something good in the world, something that will bring me into closer and more meaningful relationship with the people in my life, something that will alleviate some form of suffering, big or small.

And so, having read Anne Frank's diary and her ideas about the origins of war, I have settled on my Lenten observance for this year. My observance will be to spread peace.

Peace as in "a state of tranquility or quiet." Peace as in "harmony in personal relations." (Merriam-Webster dictionary).

I know that my largest area of influence is under my own roof, so I will start here. I know that in order to be peaceful, in order to bring peace to others, I will need to take care of myself. I'll need to get enough sleep (crabby mommies are not peaceful mommies). I'll need to catch myself before I do too much -- whatever that means on a given day -- so that I can avoid being overly sore and stiff (sore and stiff mommies are not peaceful mommies). I'll need to keep tabs on my supply of patience, and be honest with myself and my kids about how much I have on a given day, and I'll need to say No sometimes (impatient mommies are not peaceful mommies). I'll need to build in times for silence for my Introvert Self (drained introverts, whether mommies or not, are not peaceful). I'll need to find time for my writing (creatively-deprived Me is not a peaceful Me). I'll need to try hard to smile during the hours from five o'clock to eight o'clock in the evening, when I am tired and tend to have a pinched look on my face (pinched-looking mommies do not appear to others to be peaceful mommies).

I'm very tempted to say No Yelling during Lent. I'm afraid I might not be able to live up to that one, though. And really, a good, healthy (emphasis on healthy) Yell is necessary every now and then. But the goal of spreading peace seems good, seems positive, seems like doing something more for my own little world here in South of the River, and for the big, wide, and sometimes cruel, world too.

Reader, peace to you for Lent and always.

Learn more about Anne Frank and her legacy of peace, tolerance, and courage here.

2 comments:

CitricSugar said...

I think I will try to join you in your observance. I haven't had a specific Lenten mission in a looooonnnng time but when the idea behind it is as simple and beautiful as this one, I can easily get on board with it.

Peace to you as well.

Coolclan said...

Thanks for this.