On June 12, 1942, a young girl received a present from her parents that became the subject of international recognition. It was a red, checkered autograph book given as a gift in celebration of her thirteenth birthday. She began writing on it two days later, and it eventually became her diary. Less than a month passed when her sister received a summons to report to a Nazi work camp in Germany, which prompted the family to go into hiding near their home in Amsterdam. They spent over two years in isolation until August, 1944, when they were discovered and sent to Nazi concentration camps. All the while, Anne Frank kept a record of the ordeal in the book, and although she died a year later of typhus, the diary was published after the end of World War II through the auspices of her father who survived the German camp. Her notes, in the form of a book, have been reproduced in 70 languages, and the name Anne Frank is now synonymous with Hitler’s persecution of the Jews.
A prison notebook
Court records indicate that Henry Charriere was convicted on October 26, 1931 in Paris, France of the murder of a pimp. He was subsequently sentenced to life in prison plus ten years of hard labor. He was transported to French Guiana, after which he escaped to Colombia and subsequently was returned to the French Penal Colony to serve two years of brutal solitary confinement. In 1941, he escaped again, this time to Venezuela where he was finally released and given his identity papers on July 3, 1944. Henri later wrote his memoir, which he named after his handle, “Papillon” (Butterfly), and which has sold 13 million copies in 30 different languages. The book is a compilation of notes taken during and after his confinement which brought to light the cruelty of the French Penal System.
My first hospital experience occurred during my teenage years due to chronic asthma. Forced to remain in bed for several days, away from home and friends, with no television or radio available, I felt completely isolated, the only respite being the occasional visits of doctors and nurses. At the end of each interaction, they would write some notes on a clip board conveniently located at the end of the bed, thereby keeping a running account of my progress. The crisp, white uniforms and nursing cap and the health registry were the two features of my stay that remain with me to this day.
Writing for comfort
Grieving persons are encouraged to keep a diary as they travel through pain towards a new normal. It allows them to gauge their progress and come to grips with their mourning. Two dissimilar individuals like Anne and Papillon chose to keep a running record of their desperate struggle against the isolation and cruelty of their plight, later documented in famous books and movies, both of which were best sellers and Academy Award nominees. Ironically, Papillion was released from prison in July, 1944 and Anne and her family were arrested in Holland one month later; one was released from confinement to start a new life while the other was taken from confinement to face death.
A record of change
By the middle of 1971, I decided to start keeping a daily record of my professional activities prompted mostly by my hospital experience. It had humble beginnings, as the first years were mostly compilations of accounts featuring the “usual suspects.” However, as things began to careen out of control, the memos became more personal and poignant, describing a life in private turmoil as the public persona remained serene. My writings began to show, not so much by content but by volume, the degree of inner despair; when things were going well, the pages were sparsely used, but during trying times the space became insufficient. My notebook graduated from an event to an enigma as the years passed. By 1983, failing to find a personal remedy, I surrendered to the Lord.
Since that time, my diaries have exhibited the struggle to achieve sanctification after being justified by the blood of Christ. During the following seven years, the difference between before and after was barely noticeable, as my notes remained in black ink, mostly recording small victories and painful defeats. By 1990, and after meekly sharing my testimony, my chronicles slowly came alive with a red, vivid color, which signified spiritual experiences. In time, blue was added to denote lessons learned as the flesh and the spirit continued to spar.
Today, as I glance at my ledger from the past six years, I notice God’s presence and growing importance. The black and white of years past has now turned into a multi-colored hue accentuated by the color red. In essence, it displays my years of solitary confinement to sin followed by time at a half-way house until finally gaining my freedom the only way possible…. by surrendering to Christ.
Anne lived a very short time but used it wisely whereas Papillon lived much longer but wasted a good portion of his. There is much to be learned from both. My notes show a disjointed first summary, followed by a pause and accentuated in the latter years by meaningful change. My book is still being written as I continue to glance at the past for contrast in the future. Have you checked your notes lately?
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