“When I write, I shake off all my cares.” —Anne Frank.
“That one is Greta Garbo….and that woman there was Ginger Rogers!” I was holding my father’s hand with my single right finger, staring at the multitude of magazine clippings and postcards of celebrities on the walls of Anne Frank’s still-preserved room. My family and I had been on our way back to the U.S. from Islamabad, Pakistan, where we had been living. We had just moved past a bookcase in an old office building, which turned out to be an entrance to the ‘Secret Annex’ where Anne, her family and four other Jews hid from the Nazis. I walked around the bare room, transfixed at the scene, finding it impossible to believe that young Anne and the others were forced to remain silent and trapped inside for more than two years. “How did she eat, Daddy, if she could never go outside?” My dad looked at me and carefully chose his words. “A woman who worked for Anne’s father before the war helped them.” The Annex, which is now a museum, had a curator who picked up where my father left off. “By May of 1940, the Frank’s were trapped in Amsterdam by the German occupation of the Netherlands. When it was clear the family would be sent to a concentration camp, Miep Gies and her husband Jan, along with three other employees helped to hide them.” Noting the confused expression on my face, he added….”eventually someone else betrayed their trust and they were caught.”
Staring at photos of Anne and her older sister, Margot, I was particularly fascinated by the fact that Anne had written a diary, sharing every thought. It was almost as if the way she decided to manage the stress was by writing down her feelings. The curator continued, quoting the first entry as she pointed to the first page of Anne Frank’s diary:
The curator continued, “Margot wrote a diary too, but Miep Gies was only able to find Anne’s which she quickly hid away so it wouldn’t be confiscated.Years later after the war, she gave it to their Dad who published it.” I looked up, somehow feeling grateful to know there were people out there like Mrs. Gies who chose to be there for Anne and her family, even if they didn’t have to help. As I took one last look back at the desk Anne used to write her diary on, I promised myself that I too would always keep a diary, and write about things whenever I wanted to feel better about my own life.
Last week something happened unexpectedly, that I am still thinking about. While on my way to an early meeting at work, I found myself on our local train platform at around 6am. As I dashed down the staircase, I was surprised to see my train appeared to have arrived five minutes ahead of time. Without thinking, I looked up at the first person I saw to inquire whether this in fact was my train. The reply came from a young man with decent yet broken English. “I am sorry, I don’t know anything. I don’t know how to get to New York.” With the train about to take off, and realizing he was all alone and clearly lost, I beckoned to him to hop on my train to Hoboken. Grateful, he jumped on the train and within seconds the
door slammed shut. I looked over and could see stress wash over his face as the conductor approached. I turned to him. “You don’t have any ticket? Do you have money?” Even before he responded by shaking his head, I had suspected the answer and decided that my “Pay It Forward” moment for the day was to help him get to the Big Apple.
While riding, I learned more about his story. He was twenty years old and from Chile, and his name was Jamil. Jamil’s parents had both died and his only remaining relative, his sister, was going to “kill him” for following his dream to come to the U.S. with no money and no job. I beckoned toward Jamil. “Follow me.” We passed through a crowd of other commuters and ended up on the Ferry shuttle I take every day from Hoboken to the southern tip of New York’s Manhattan Island. On any other given day, my face would be planted in my iPhone reading emails. However, today was going to be different. The weather was clear, and as we passed the Statue of Liberty and quickly arrived at the ferry station alongside the water, I could see Jamil soaking in the view. Before we parted, being a Jewish mother and all, I couldn’t let him go without giving him the name and number of a local Youth Hostel, and buying Jamil a breakfast sandwich and coffee (and admittedly taking his picture for this blog post!). As we said goodbye, Jamil looked back. “Meg, thank you so much. This is my dream. You are the first person who has helped me since I arrived in your country. You don’t know what a great comfort you have provided to me.”
Feeling grateful I was able to help someone in need, the chance encounter remained with me. Firstly, being there for Jamil made me think about the subject of help once again. Of course, the chance to
help someone else in any significant way happens unexpectedly and infrequently. And looking so blatantly different as I do, I am constantly surrounded by people trying to help me. Sure, sometimes I need the help but mainly I don’t. But ironically, I actually get my most needed support through writing this weekly blog; for it provides me an outlet where I carefully consider my feelings, reflect on behaviors of which I am both proud and regretful, continually face fears and even express joy. In this sense, I have realized that people may come and go and offer me help in my life and it is certainly my pleasure to do the same. However, the most meaningful assist I have ever had has been actually from my own writing.