When I was a little girl, I was absolutely obsessed with all things WWII- and Holocaust-related. We only had four TV channels back then – ABC, NBC, CBS and PBS – and I would always watch the WWII specials on PBS. I remember getting in trouble for watching some of the shows that were on in conjunction with the 50th anniversary of D-Day because my mom thought a 10-year-old shouldn’t be looking at pictures and video taken as the Allied soldiers liberated the concentration camps across Europe. There were too many naked, emaciated men for her comfort level.
Strangely enough, when I first had the opportunity to read “The Diary of Anne Frank” in the 6th grade, I wasn’t terribly interested in it. It wasn’t until later on in middle school, when I played a role in the staged adaptation of the diary, that I reread it and gained a true appreciation for it.
The thing that struck me most about Anne, besides her unwavering faith in the goodness of humanity even in the darkest times of war and genocide, was her desire to better herself during her time in hiding. She had no idea when, or even if, she would be free again, but she maintained a belief that she would see the end of the war and attempt to make a living as a writer or journalist. To that end, not only did she go back and edit her diary for possible publication, but she also studied language arts and foreign language and read voraciously whenever her caretakers could bring her books. She even managed to stay in shape in a confined space by doing calisthenics.
She puts me to shame. I, too, try to keep learning and bettering myself on the off chance that I do manage to survive this disease against all the odds. I studied enough of the Torah and Jewish history, customs and theology to convert. I studied Hebrew, kept up my French, and learned to play the piano. I even kept up a hobby or two, writing an online journal and making scrapbooks. I was not particularly successful in maintaining an exercise program, though – I couldn’t drive to the gym and there weren’t any viable areas to walk near my house.
Some days, the excuses pile up higher than they should. I’m tired. My back hurts. My blood sugar is low. I can’t concentrate. My memory is bad. I can’t see well out of my right eye. I need to stick close to the bathroom. I missed my nap. My head hurts. The book is too heavy for me to lift. My hands are too shaky.
Still, though, I can’t let myself languish and deteriorate. After all, we all have to live until we die, and what better way to do it than by making yourself a better you?