Peace Is Not A Spectator Sport: Anne Frank’s Chestnut Tree
I am writing a short story inspired by Anne Frank, and I came across this quote in my research.
“Peace is not a spectator sport… The enemies of peace don’t need your approval. All they need is your apathy.” – President Clinton, at the Anne Frank Tree Installation at the Presidential Center in Little Rock, Arkansas in 2015.
The Anne Frank tree was birthed as a sapling from a 170 year old Chestnut Tree outside the window of the Secret Annex, where Anne hid with her family and others for two years. In 2005, the glorious white horse Chestnut began to die from a serious disease, and the Anne Frank House obtained permission from the owner to germinate chestnuts from the tree. The saplings were then donated to schools and other organizations in Anne’s name.
In 2009, the Anne Frank House donated 150 descendents of the tree to a woodland park in Amsterdam; After a three year quarantine, the last young trees were planted in the United States.
I like to think that Anne loved that old Chestnut with all her might, and that the saplings planted around the world in her honor are holding that love for all of us.
She wrote about the tree in her diary for the last time on May 13, 1944.
“Our chestnut tree is in full bloom. It’s covered with leaves and is even more beautiful than last year.” – Anne Frank, from the Diary Of Anne Frank
Anne’s resilience and optimism in the face of so much deprivation and fear -(imagine what she would give to sit underneath a tree or take a walk outside once more!) – was supported and held close by her mindful writing practice.
Mindfulness Practice Supports Compassionate Action
I’m inspired to think about the mindfulness practices that support my resilience and optimism, thankful for the luxuries of time and freedom, and heartbroken that we made the choice to turn boatloads of children away from the safety of our glorious shoreline.
Mean-spirited denial of refuge is almost always disguised as a “protective measure”. Injurious apathy often masquerades as a feeling of overwhelm – “I can’t do everything so I’ll do nothing”, powerlessness – “I am only one person. How much difference can I make, really?” and un-relatedness- I don’t have time to help “them” or “they” should have moved, stopped this sooner, asked for help in a better way, etc.
(It’s helpful to remember history: In July 1938, fewer than 5 percent of Americans believed that the United States should encourage refugees fleeing fascism. In January 1939, 61 percent of Americans opposed the settlement of 10,000 refugee children, “most of them Jewish,” in the United States.
“By 1941, the United States severely restricted refugee resettlement, in part through the Smith Act, which gave individual American consuls power to deny refugee visas, and gave Breckinridge Long, the assistant secretary of state who opposed Jewish migration, greater control of refugee policy.
As nativist voices were triumphing over refugee policy, over 6 million Jews were exterminated during the Nazi reign of terror.” – Lee Fang, writing in The Intercept
Anne Frank, barely into her teens, hiding from certain death, said this:
“How wonderful it is that no one need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.”- Anne Frank
It’s not really all that wonderful when you think about it. It’s a daunting call to action, and it’s true.
The whole world is really a boatload of children, waiting to be deemed worthy of attention and care. The photo below is from the liberation of Dachau.
Four Mindfulness Practices That Support Your Efforts To Improve The World
So Start with you, and let love in to open your heart. If you need support in your efforts at acceptance and understanding, here are four practices that will help your heart stay open and connected to new, beneficial ideas for right action:
- Meditation: The benefits of this practice can’t be overstated. I find it helpful to think of it as a work out for my brain that then supports my efforts at improving everything else. Even one minute a day is helpful!
- Writing: I always recommend starting with a story about your life. While I know journaling is good for you in so many ways, I am a fan of story-telling as a way to re-understand the world around you. As we write the stories of our life, we start to THINK about the stories that might inform the reactions and actions of the people around us, and we increase our capacity for empathy.
- Reading: While it may feel like a “waste of time” when you have so many distractions competing for your attention, reading literary fiction is actually recommended for autistic children as a way to improve their ability to relate to others. This is because, unlike the exaggerated circumstances of memoirs or popular genre fiction, literary fiction usually encourages us to imagine the hidden story behind a “normal” character’s current circumstance. As we surmise the inner reasons that characters act the way that they do, we practice understanding others. This lessens our tendency to quick judgements and our empathy improves in a measurable way.
- Yoga: I really get it. I hated yoga too, but I can share enough benefits to fill a book, literally. Yoga improves your ability to stay calm in the midst of a challenging circumstance and stops the crazy cortisol rush that drives most impulsive or fear-based choices. The practice of yoga teaches stillness and mind body awareness, which helps you choose beneficial reactions and actions.
Anne Frank Was Right: We Need Not Wait A Single Moment To Begin To Improve The World.
There are more supportive practices of course, but the point of this post is simple.
If you’re challenged by too little time, money or tolerance, remember that there are practices that will support you as you “begin to improve the world.”
Turns out, we are the ones we’re waiting for.
We just have to learn about each other and ourselves first, and find the practice or practices (in my case, I need several!) that support us best. It’s not easy to remember, but we really need not wait a single moment to begin to improve the world.
Thanks so much for reading my post.
“As long as this exists, how can I be sad?” – Anne Frank, describing the chestnut tree outside the Secret Annex in the Diary Of Anne Frank