Berlin 1990 – A Tourist Walking Through World History

The most fascinating vacation I’ve ever taken, by far, was a visit to Berlin in 1990 – right after the Berlin Wall came down. History was changing right before my eyes. Even though the Wall was literally being sold off in pieces to tourists, the country had not yet been unified. So you could walk between East and West Germany with no passport control or checks. All that was left of Checkpoint Charlie was an abandoned guard shack and a photo of Gorbachev on the pavement, smeared with red paint.

The difference between East and West was glaring. In West Berlin, the taxis were all Mercedes, a shopping mall on the Ku’damm sold all the latest fashions and Mont Blanc pens. The KaDeWe department store had one floor devoted solely to food – every kind of food imaginable. One entire wall featured mustards of any variety you might want. The seafood department displayed a tank of live eels. People from the newly opened East wandered around this floor simply gaping in wonder at the over-the-top displays of food.

Walking towards the Berlin Wall, you heard drum beats, which turned out to be from orange-robed Buddhist monks, demonstrating for peace.  Off to the side, Russian soldiers kept guard over a war memorial. Tables set up by new entrepreneurs sold off graffiti-painted chunks of the Wall.  If you wanted, you could rent a chisel and cut your own.

Stepping through the Wall and into the East, you saw nothing but plain, grey buildings. No shops, no cafes, and no people out and about. But days later, on a bus tour of the few sights to see in East Berlin, hundreds of people suddenly converged on one plaza to demand higher wages and lower food prices. In the Berlin suburb of Potsdam, someone had just thrown a Molotov cocktail through the window of the room where post-World War II was carved up by the Allies. You could stroll through the palaces of former German kings, strolling among Soviet soldiers on leave. No one spoke English. But a lovely lunch was served at a “Friendship Island,” a display of so-called Soviet prosperity put on for foreigners.

Throughout the trip, I was humbled by the gratitude of the West Berliners for their post-war years of living in true prosperity and freedom. After speaking English in a taxi, the cab driver turned off the meter and refused to charge me for the ride. At the hotel, I found myself upgraded to the nicest suite in the place for free, because, “as an American, you are so kind.”

How we are treated when we travel is always set in the context of foreign relations and world history. In Berlin of 1990, I had the rare privilege of receiving the gratitude of those who saw a sparse, grey alternative to the prosperity and freedom of the West just across town.

Cynthia Coe’s novel Ginger’s Reckoningis set, in part, in Berlin of 1990. Ginger’s Reckoningis now only $2.99 on Kindle. Also available in paperback and included in Kindle Unlimited.

 

What is it about Paris?

What is it about Paris that makes you want to go there, even if it’s just through the vicarious experience of a book? Certainly, you could have “fun” many places. There are many locations with stunning views, adventures, or new cultures to explore. But there is something about Paris that surpasses all of the usual touristy pleasures and experiences.

Life in Paris is about elegance, quality, and excellence. The climate is just right – not too warm and not too cold. The city is the model of northern hemisphere livability – you can get there easily, there’s plenty of places to stay, and cabs and the metro allow you to move around easily. There’s public places – art museums, in particular – to visit and see, along with plenty of lovely green spaces to get fresh air and pause from the hustle-bustle of city life. And of course, there’s the food. You will eat well in Paris, with quality ingredients, thoughtful preparation, and lovely presentation. But you won’t eat too much – proportions are just right, with none of the overindulgence of many American restaurants.

Paris is culture at its peak – and not just the art, fashion, and architecture. Paris is everyday living at its best. You don’t just have a breakfast of cereal poured in a bowl. You have a scrumptious croissant or pastry, butter served at precisely the right temperature, a perfect cup of coffee, a hunk of baguette baked that morning, and strawberry jam. Simply walking around Paris is a pleasant adventure. Although the city is busy, you don’t suffer the rushed, over-crowded vibe of New York or Amsterdam. You may take your time, enjoying the parks you pass, stopping to browse, pausing to watch river traffic on the Seine. You don’t have to be “doing” something all the time; it’s perfectly acceptable (and highly recommended) to sit in a sidewalk café sipping wine and people watch for a spell.

The architecture of the city lends itself to both feeling part of a grand plan, plus the charm of discovering narrow, quiet streets where you can feel the peace of a small town. You can soak in the artistic masterpieces of the Louvre or the D’Orsay, but you can also take a few moments to eat a delicious but not too sweet cake at a perfectly set table on the roof of the Centre George Pompidou, a piece of everyday art in itself. Balance and harmony are evident everywhere.

Last summer, my family vacationed in Paris, and we loved every minute of it. (I say that now after recovering from the slightly terrifying experience of getting lost in a sketchy neighborhood near Gare du Nord; it’s now a fond vignette in family mythology. Sometimes the memories of a place are more pleasant than the reality.)  I won’t be going to Paris this summer – at least not in person. But I’ll be “visiting” Paris again through the pages of a book, with my toes in the sand and maybe a bottle of French wine in the cooler beside me.

Here are some of my favorite books about Paris. (All non-fiction; my next blog post will feature favorite novels about Paris):

Paris to the Moon– New Yorker writer Adam Gopnik moves to Paris with his family. A wonderful examination of Parisian culture

A Paris Year: My Day-to-Day Adventures in the Most Romantic City in the World– a lovely book with illustrations and graphics

The Only Street in Paris: Life on the Rue des Martyrs– a journalist explores her own Parisian neighborhood

A Moveable Feast– Hemingway’s most accessible and joyful book

The Most Beautiful Walk in the World: A Pedestrian in Paris– This short book rambles along through Paris, a good quick read.

Cynthia Coe enjoys travelling and writing about her travels. Her novel Ginger’s Reckoning takes the reader from Houston to Moscow, with stops in KnoxVegas and a couple of interesting cities in Western Europe along the way. Ginger’s Reckoning is now available on Kindle for $2.99; also available in paperback, included in Kindle Unlimited.

Follow this blog or her Facebook pagefor weekly blog posts and news of recent releases and sales on her books.

 

Sunday Morning on the Farm

Not all worship happens inside church buildings on Sunday mornings. Worship can mean a religious ceremony or service. Worship can also mean, simply, a feeling of reverence. Worship, in its best sense, is communion with the Holy Spirit, feeling connected to God.

On a bright spring morning, it’s hard to feel that kind of connectedness inside a stuffy church building, sitting on a hard pew, surrounded by other people. On a bright spring morning, worship might more authentically happen amongst a field of buttercups, towering sycamore trees, or alongside a trickling mountain stream.

My Sunday mornings are usually spent on my farm. The mountain ridge facing my house is my cathedral. The trees towering over me diminish any troubles or dilemmas I think might overwhelm me. The breeze softly and almost silently blowing through the meadow between my home and the ridge refreshes my body and soul.

I can have quiet here. I can have peace here. I can let go of all troubles and dilemmas and simply be. I can wander through the forest or the meadow and feel part of all of nature, no more significant or insignificant as any other part of nature. I can get in touch with who I am, stripped of all artifice.

Wisdom surrounds me. I have only to look around me for lessons that speak to me in messages both personal and universal.  On a spring day, new life springs up from a ground thought cold and dead only a few days previous. Daffodils and tulips appear in unexpected places, as surprises from the divine. Dogwood trees produce blossoms from branches remembered from seasons past but forgotten in their off-season commonplace familiarity.

Essential worship takes place when we are fully ourselves and fully in tune with the world around us. And in my cathedral of sycamore trees soaring over a grassy meadow, I am more truly worshipful than in any other place on earth.

Cynthia Coe is the author of Considering Birds & Lilies: Finding Peace & Harmony with the Everyday World Around Us. For news of upcoming publications and for blog posts, please follow this blog or her author page on Amazon.  

Earth Day 1970 – Shock and Awe

When I was a third grader at Abraham Lincoln Elementary School in Kingsport, Tennessee, I participated in the very first Earth Day on April 22, 1970. Lest you think events like Earth Day don’t impact children and youth, this very first Earth Day opened my eyes to why we all need to take care of the one home we all share.

I remember the bright blue and green posters hung along the halls of my school, but what I remember most is the short field trip we took that crisp and sunny April day. It was a field trip of only a few city blocks, but it shocked me into realizing how badly people in my community had trashed our natural environment.

Passing neat brick houses and well kept yards in our small city, we stopped by a creek running through the neighborhood. Trash covered every single surface of both banks of the creek. It was appalling, disgusting, shocking. I remember my friends and I were frightened, as well. Thousands of the old “pop-top” aluminum can lids littered the banks of the creek, and we were afraid to take a step, knowing how these razor sharp lids could easily take off a toe or a finger.

It was a moment of personal experience for the care of the earth. I lived in a chemical plant’s company town, and we knew the smokestacks belched out toxins we all breathed in. But the company paid virtually everyone’s paychecks, and there was nothing we as third graders could do about this powerful source of pollution. But the trash covering the banks of the creek running through the middle of town was a sin of a personal nature – every single one of us could take actions to keep trash out of the creek and off the ground.

Decades later, in writing resources to lead children and youth in creation care, I came across research saying that “shock” tactics such as this field trip to the creek are not necessarily effective in promoting environmentalism. Research shows that developing a sense of awe and wonderment for the beauty of nature is much more helpful. If a child learns to love one small bit of the natural world, he or she will likely grow up to love and want to take care of all of nature.

I think it takes both shock and awe to learn to take care of the earth. We all need a kick in the tail occasionally to get us to face difficult situations. But children also need time and space to play, have fun, and become comfortable in the natural world.

Many of us growing up in the late 1960’s and 70’s had that blissful, unplugged time and space in nature to develop this sense of awe and wonder. I spent hours upon hours using a magnolia tree in my backyard as my own personal “fort” – a play activity enjoyed by children all over the world since time immemorial.  One of the most fun times I had as a Girl Scout was setting up our very own “camp” – carving out our own special place in the forest for our small band of girls, setting up seating areas and tables, making it feel secure and comfortable. We experienced the magic of playing outdoors in an unstructured environment, with little supervision, allowed to let our imaginations run wild.

I hope children you know will get to have a magical time in nature, too. I hope all children will get to play in the woods and use their imaginations to turn tree stumps into chairs and tables and turn magnolia trees into comfortable playhouses. I hope we all, someday, live in world where the environment gives us a sense of awe, not shock.

Cynthia Coe is the author of Wild Faith: A Creation Care Curriculum for Youth and Considering Birds & Lilies: Finding Peace & Harmony with the Everyday World Around Us. For news of upcoming publications and for blog posts, please follow this blog or her author page on Amazon.  

 

Done With Church – Listening & Understanding Why

Many of you reading this either work for the Church or attend regularly and enthusiastically. But you know, deep down, that the number of people attending church in the US continues to drop.

A recent report on Knoxville’s WBIR announced that 80% of Knoxvillians either identify as having “no religion” or are “done” with religion – and this is in the Bible Belt!  Forty percent of those surveyed in a study commissioned by a local mega church showed that of this 80%, 40% are “dones” – those who once faithfully attended church but are, literally, done with it all. Often, these “dones” were among the most active members of their church right before they walked out the door.

In my mind, the rise of the Dones – especially those of whom were very active church members – is a puzzling and potentially disastrous situation church leaders really need to pay attention to. Losing the “nones” is one thing; losing people who once devoted their time, talents and money and then completely walk away is a whole different kind of culture shock that ought to get the church’s attention. Denial about the situation won’t do any good (and I think that’s the pervasive response at the moment.)

Instead, the church might well listen to those who have left the church – and perhaps look in the mirror at their own behaviors that are killing the institution they love. Yes, we all know some of the reasons for the “dones” – the lack of time for church, increasing competition for children’s afterschool and weekend hours, and the disillusionment of churchgoers after a small minority of clergy commit crimes or totally drop the ball when it comes to basic morality.  But I think there’s more behind the “done” movement.

People Are Exasperated with Church Tribalism: In the book Church Refugees: Why People are Done with Their Church But Not Their Faith, sociologists Josh Packard and Ashleigh Hope found that the main reason active church members became “dones” was a lack of opportunity for growth within the church. Church bureaucracy gets in the way of getting meaningful work done. Churchgoers are tired of the church power structure, which often is primarily concerned with keeping the church hierarchy in place.

I would add to this what I’ve experienced as exasperation with the tribalism and clique-ishness of churches, at local, regional and national levels. Getting work done in the church is almost always dependent on whether you’re part of one clique or another. A lot of potentially great ministry has been nipped in the bud by leaders who feel threatened by others (particularly newcomers) or don’t want to acknowledge the gifts of people in competing tribes.  For an institution that prides itself on “inclusion,” a lot of us sure have felt excluded time and time again.

I suspect people have always felt hostility and resentment against this kind of tribalism in past years. But now, it is socially acceptable to say “no” and to simply walk away. People are fed up, and finally, they are taking on meaningful activities outside the church.

Ministry Really is Out in the World: Churches preach Jesus’ commandment to “go ye into all the world,” but the church definition of “ministry” almost always involves ministering to others solely within the context and framework of the institutional church. The reality is that people do ministry each and every day in their jobs, in their personal lives, and as part of other organizations – medical professionals, social workers, caretakers of the elderly, full time moms, Scout leaders, people simply sharing acts of kindness to strangers and neighbors alike. Yet the church rarely acknowledges these contributions or “counts” them as ministry connected to Christianity.

I wish The Church would acknowledge the “ministry” many church goers and non-church goers alike do outside the walls of the church. I wish The Church would acknowledge the many financial contributions people give to worthy charitable organizations or even to family or friends in need.

The Church is not one-stop shopping for giving, doing, and believing. And the Dones and Nones have already figured that out.

Recommended Books on the Dones and Nones:

Josh Packard and Ashleigh Hope, Church Refugees: Why People are Done with Their Church But Not Their Faith (This is by far the most insightful book I’ve read on the subject of Dones and why they’ve left the church. Highly recommended).

Elizabeth Drescher, Choosing Our Religion: The Spiritual Lives of America’s Nones.

Brian McLaren, The Great Spiritual Migration:How the World’s Largest Religion is Seeking A Better Way to Be Christian.

Linda A Mercadante, Belief Without Borders: Inside the Minds of the Spiritual but not Religious.

Cynthia Coe is the author of Considering Birds & Lilies: Finding Peace & Harmony with the Everyday World Around Us and two novels. For more information, please see her Author Page on Amazon.

 

Having It All, Losing It All, and Finding Redemption

When the economy crashed in 2008, I watched the stock market tank, careers end, and fortunes lost with a sense of deja vu. I had been through it before and come out a different person.

My book, Ginger’s Reckoning, was written as self-therapy for dealing my own financial crash and destroyed career. My husband and I became millionaires in our early thirties. My husband was an investment banker, and I was a trial lawyer. We seemingly had it all – a charming house in the nicest neighborhood in town, European cars, designer clothes, vacations at exclusive resorts in the Caribbean. Then it all came crashing down. The company my husband worked for was shut down by the federal government and investigated by the FBI. I lost my job as a lawyer. Our income was zero.

I learned a lot during that time. Fortunately, a friend had wisely advised us to save our money when times were good, so we didn’t starve, lose our home, or go without the basic necessities of life. But our lifestyle had to change drastically. I quickly learned how to cut household expenses to the bone. I learned to do without. I learned what was really important to me – and it wasn’t necessarily the money I missed from my former life.

In my novel, Ginger Jordan walks away from her home right before it and all her other assets are seized by the government. She leaves in the middle of the night with only a backpack stuffed with a few clothes and personal mementoes. She goes back to her college haunts in the Fort Sanders neighborhood of Knoxville, which was also where I spent many happy days as a poor but culturally fulfilled UT student.

Ginger’s journey continues to some of my favorite places in Europe, ending up in Moscow. At the time I wrote the book, I hadn’t been to Moscow. The scenes in the book were based on an old 1980’s era travel book I found in a used book store. Oddly enough, once I did visit Moscow in 2005, I was amazed that the hotel where we stayed was spookily similar to the hotel I had described in my novel years before. It was a world apart from my (and Ginger’s) capitalistic world in America – food was hard to come by, a restaurant refused us service (because we were Americans), the hotel wouldn’t let us change to a larger room with enough beds for our kids (because we didn’t have permission from…somebody), and we had to be vetted before entering any store (including the mall beside the US Embassy). When politics went south, we got out of Moscow only after I got in our facilitator’s face and yelled at him to take us to the Delta Airlines office. Fun times!

In the novel, Ginger comes to terms with her drastically changed circumstances while in Russia, backed into a corner but helped by family and close friends. In the real world, I too came to terms with my own dark night of the soul in Russia, stripped away from all that was familiar and comfortable.

I hope you enjoy my novel, Ginger’s Reckoning, featured as an Amazon Countdown Deal Friday, March 30 – Monday, April 2.

Blessings, Cindy

 

When Church Becomes Contentious

Churches, we want to believe, are happy, fuzzy places where everyone is loved and valued.  That’s what we preach and teach.  That’s what most of us expect from the church as well.  But sometimes, churches become very contentious places.  When that happens, it’s hard to focus on the church’s basic missions of ministry and spiritual growth.  Often, even the most active church members end up dropping out – feeling betrayed, hurt, and even demeaned.

When I was a teenager, my family attended a Methodist church that became a battlefield.  A small group of people tried to run off a much loved pastor, then another group tried to run off a much loved music director.  My father was chairman of the “hiring and firing committee,” and our phone often rung off the wall with vitriolic complaints against church staff.  The experience marred my fledgling spirituality for years, and for a long time, I was too scarred from the experience to attend any church at all.

When church communities become contentious, everyone suffers.  Even those not in the line of fire (like teenage girls with no dog in the hunt) end up disillusioned, angry, and suffering from at least some form of grief resulting from the experience.  Those directly involved surely suffer devastating emotional blows, and people who tend to them or find themselves cleaning up the emotional and spiritual fallout often end up depressed, angry, or burned out as well.   Membership and attendance usually drops like a brick.  Worthwhile ministries are neglected or lose funding and support.  Everyone loses, including those to whom the church hoped to help.

In my humble opinion, the source of my much contentiousness in church communities is the attempt by a few individuals to exert their power and will over others, with no regard to the feelings, opinions, or worth of others in the communities.  These individuals become convinced that they are right (about whatever the issue happens to be), and no other opinion will be tolerated or even heard.  Those with other opinions find themselves ignored and marginalized at best, insulted and kicked out of the church community at worst.

We all know this is not what the Gospel is all about.  This is not at all what church communities should be, no matter what your theology might be.  And attempts by sinful church leaders to establish their own little fiefdoms are antithetical to everything Jesus preached and taught.

If you find yourself the victim of church contentiousness, it’s hard to know where to turn.  Some of us “take a break” from church and leave for a long or short time until we feel healed and ready to try participation in church community again.  Some of us find sources of spiritual growth on our own or commune with the trees, birds, and other nature wonders.  (Birds and squirrels generally don’t argue with you, which is comforting to those of us burned by church feuds.)

If you find yourself wanting to create a church community in your own image, please remember that this is not what church is about.  It’s about, in fact, surrendering your will to God and keeping the needs of others first and foremost on the agenda.  Everybody really does matter, and everybody’s opinions really do matter.  The church includes you, those you don’t particularly like, and even those people you really can’t stand.

And if you find yourself the victim of such contentiousness, please remember that healing can take place.  It may take a long time, but redemption and resurrection are also what the church is all about, too.

Cynthia Coe is the author of Considering Birds & Lilies: Finding Peace & Harmony With the Everyday World Around Us and the novels Ginger’s Reckoning and Runaway Kitty

What’s A Prayer Shawl? (And Do You Have to Literally Pray Over Each Stitch to Make One?)

One of my favorite spiritual practices is to knit prayer shawls.  I love to sit quietly and not think, letting my mind rest while I simply make loop after loop with my hands and two bamboo sticks.  When I donate my work to my local church, I feel something like a sense of relief.  The thoughts and concerns that worked themselves out during the knitting of a large project come to an end, given over to a higher purpose. 

I have been known to sit and knit during church services.  I knit in the early morning silence of my meditation and prayer time.  But I also knit while watching TV with my family, in the school pick-up line, and while waiting for doctor appointments.  So I’ve wondered, what exactly makes a knitting project a “prayer shawl”?

For me, it’s all about intent.  Some knitting projects are for specific people for specific purposes – a hat for my husband, a winter scarf for my son, a tote bag for my daughter, a sweater for myself.  But for me, prayer shawls are for someone I likely will never know or meet.

In donating a prayer shawl, I’m giving up to God an investment of my time – usually several weeks’ worth of knitting on a daily basis.  I use soft yarns I hope will provide comfort to someone going through a hard time.  Sometimes I choose peaceful, calming colors for my prayer shawls.  Other times, I choose cheerful, peppy colors I hope will provide a cheerful, upbeat presence in someone’s life.  Sometimes I have in mind a female recipient and knit in pinks and reds and pastels.  Other times, I have a male recipient in mind and knit a prayer shawl a guy wouldn’t mind draped over a favorite chair.  I’ve knitted prayer shawls large enough to serve as a blanket on a nursing home bed.  Others are triangular and meant to wrap around someone’s shoulders.

In any case, the purpose of the project is to share love, comfort, and peace with someone in need.  Occasionally, I know someone who has had surgery, has cancer, or is at the end of life.  When I knit these shawls, I very intentionally think about the person for whom I’m knitting and for their struggles.  But usually, I don’t know where my prayer shawl will end up.  And that’s part of the spirituality of the task – putting forth your best efforts, sharing a gift of love, and trusting in the work of the Holy Spirit to get your work where it needs to go. 

So while knitting a prayer shawl is a form of meditation at many points in the making of it, it’s more about the general intention of the whole project.  It’s about a gift of my own peacefulness, sending the finished project out into the world to serve as a visible, tangible reminder of the peace, love, and comfort that can be found in Christian fellowship – even if I never meet the person I find myself connected to with my gift. 

Cynthia Coe is the author of two novels and “Considering Birds & Lilies: Finding Peace & Harmony with the Everyday World Around Us.”  She is currently at work on a series of short stories about prayer shawls and those who knit or receive them. 

Recommended Reading:

Peggy Rosenthal, Knit One, Purl a Prayer: A Spirituality of Knitting (An excellent, succinct little book that covers lots of topics related to knitting-as-prayer)

Clara Parkes, The Yarn Whisperer: My Unexpected Life in Knitting (Great light reading, a nice memoir that pleasantly meanders along at a calm pace)

 

The Continuing Relevance of Anne Frank’s Diary

The Continuing Relevance of Anne Frank and her Diary

Amsterdam, June 2017

A Muslim woman wearing a hijab and long, flowing black clothes stands with her bicycle at a busy intersection, waiting to enter the throng cycling through the city on a Saturday afternoon.  The city is hot, crowded, and filled with cars, motorbikes, and tourists from all over the globe.  Bakeries and small restaurants run by immigrants from Asia and the Middle East line the narrow side streets, while the scent of pot wafts outside the coffee houses.  A party boat carrying barely-clad women cruises a canal, advertising an establishment in the red light district.

And on one of the sleepier canal streets across town, tourists have formed a line snaking around and around an otherwise vacant lot near the bulky brown nave of the Westerkerk, waiting for hours upon hours to get inside the Anne Frank House.  Earlier in the day, tourists who’ve made reservations months in advance climb inside the upper floors of the house-behind-a-house, perhaps taking a moment to notice newspaper photo of the then Princess Elizabeth, still living.  An hour before closing on a late Saturday afternoon, hundreds more hope to get inside before closing time – despite the heat, despite having a plethora of museums, coffee houses, bike rides, and other attractions they could have chosen.

New generations have not only embraced but amplified Anne Frank’s life and work in the 21st century.

A Fresh, Young, Authentic Voice

“Keeping it real,” is a mantra I’ve heard from my young-adult aged children.  “Keeping it real” means telling the truth – being your authentic, God-honest self.  And this is what Anne Frank did as she wrote the diary entries that became the best-selling, beloved Diary of a Young Girl.  Anne by no means sugar-coated her situation, her family, her relationship with the other people hiding in the Annex, and especially herself.  Her diary is raw, brutally honest, and without agenda.  She writes of sexual feelings most of us would never, ever put down on paper.  She speaks ill of the other family who joins her own in the Annex.  She describes her frustration at having to suddenly share her room with a grown man and (bane of all writers) her inability to get the space and time to work on her own writing project.

It’s this kind of voice we rarely hear any more in this world of stage-crafted communications, talking points, and what may or may not be fake news.  Everybody has an agenda, and social media posts and every other communication usually seeks to serve someone’s cause, political views, or self-image.  Anne Frank, at age thirteen, just wanted to survive to live another day.

The Importance of Small Kindnesses (and Cruelties) in Everyday Life

Re-reading Anne Frank’s Diary of a Young Girl as an adult while in Amsterdam, I was struck by how Anne’s family and co-habitants of the Annex were able to survive so long without having been found.  The story I really wanted to know about was that of Miep Gies, who brought food and other necessities to the family.  These daily, extraordinary acts of kindness – by Miep, by the green grocer who surely knew (or at least suspected) where the food went, by those who helped with ration cards, money, or even by their sheer silence in not letting on what they knew or suspected – kept the family alive.

Small kindnesses matter.  There are things each of us can do each and every day that could benefit someone we know – or even someone we don’t know very well or at all.

The group hiding in the attic is eventually discovered and send off to concentration camps, where everyone but Anne’s father will die.  Who ratted them out?  Walking around the block of houses on the Prinsengracht, I realized it could have been anyone.  Any of the neighbors looking out their windows onto the courtyard could have seen Anne as she looked out at the trees and sunshine from her attic window.  As hunger and even starvation loomed in 1944 Amsterdam, someone – anyone – must have caved to self-interest and sold the secret of the Jews in the Annex to the Nazis.  Giving this information was a small act, likely taking very little time and effort, but one that was deeply destructive to those in hiding.

There’s a lesson here, too.  Little acts of gossip, bad-mouthing, pettiness, and sheer meanness – even if it’s done for what you think is your own survival – can destroy other people.  In a new culture where we seldom even see our “friends” or neighbors, we might forget that words count.  Words can destroy.

Policies and Agendas Affect Real People

In our current cultural and political climate, the most relevant lesson we can learn from the fate of Anne Frank is that whatever political, corporate, or even personal agenda we might have, real people will be affected.  As I read Anne Frank’s diary and other books about her, I was struck by how utterly apolitical Anne was.  Though her persecution is most definitely an “us against them” agenda by the Nazis, Anne shines through as someone who simply wants to go back to school, have a boyfriend, write, and be able to go outdoors again.

This is what most human beings want – love, purpose, freedom to come and go, and a way forward, whatever that looks like for each individual.  This is what the “us versus them” mentality plows under in its relentless path to make everyone else look, think, and be like you.  This is what killed the fresh, young authentic voice of Anne Frank, now beloved but snuffed out as a teenager.

Cynthia Coe is the author of two novels and “Considering Birds & Lilies: Finding Peace & Harmony in the Everyday World Around Us.”

For Further Reading:

Anne Frank, The Diary of a Young Girl

Miep Gies, Anne Frank Remembered: The Story of the Woman Who Helped to Hide the Frank Family

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When Life Becomes Overwhelming: a DIY Resilience Toolkit

Between a hurricane hitting a major US city, North Korea firing off missiles, and widespread political turmoil, stress levels are up.  Sometimes it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and powerless to do anything about the numerous disasters, breaking news headlines, and personal problems that constantly bombard us.

We need resilience – the ability to suck it up and move on (or at least find a sense of peace among the turmoil), and like anything else worth having, finding resilience might take a little work.  But even those of us prone to anxiety can come up with a “toolkit” of go-to techniques and practices to find calm in the storm.

Here is my own Resilience Toolkit.  Even on relatively calm days, doing just one or two of these activities can help to clear your mind and be ready to deal with unexpected sources of stress.  On days when you know you’re about to run head-on to numerous sources of stress, you might do several of these activities (as time allows; even a few minutes helps).

·         Turn off the television and put down your phone.  It’s okay to take a break from the news, and chances are, you can’t do anything about most of the problems you see on TV.

·         Read something dealing with a lightweight subject that doesn’t push any of your buttons.  Personally, I prefer travel books – they take you out of your own messed up world and transport you to someplace interesting and new where you have no dog in the hunt.

·         Quiet crafting – knitting, woodworking, drawing, cooking, gardening, whatever floats your boat.  I find that even one or two rows of knitting calms me down (or at least gives me an excuse to take a break from the rest of the world).

·         Journaling.  Write whatever comes into your pretty little head, and feel free to vent.  You have permission to write illegibly so no one will ever be able to read your deepest vents, or you can tear up (or even burn) whatever you write afterwards.  It’s the process that makes you feel better.

·         Take a walk outside.  Being outdoors gives you an instant sense of peace and quiet.  A walk around the block or just a breath of fresh air does wonders.

·         Spend a few minutes in meditation or prayer, doing yoga, or reading a favorite inspirational book.  One of the purposes of spiritual practices is to help find a sense of peace.

Life is tough.  Some days it’s tougher than others.  Take care of yourself by spending a few minutes a day in your own little bubble of peacefulness, away from the madness of crowds and reality.

Blessings, Cindy

Cynthia Coe is the author of two novels and “Considering Birds & Lilies: Finding Peace & Harmony in the Everyday World Around Us.”