I was 10 years old when I found my soul mate at the library. I was a restless middle child, searching for books to take me away from 1970s southern California suburbia. Proud of my above-average reading level, I deliberately bypassed the children's section and headed for the area marked Young Adult.
As I walked through the stacks, trailing one finger across the spines of books neatly lined up on shelves, a title caught my eye: "The Diary of a Young Girl." Intrigued by the idea of reading someone else's diary, I pulled the book down and gazed at a cover photo of a pensive Anne Frank, age 13. I never imagined that she would influence me for the rest of my life.
I admit that I first read Anne Frank because I was a nosy kid. But I instantly related to her youthful moodiness, her inner conflicts, and her thoughtful optimism.
My local library carried an early edition of the book, with no photos save for the single black-and-white picture on the cover, so it was up to my imagination to fill in the blanks. I formed mental pictures of Anne's family, based on her detailed descriptions of them. I pored over the small diagram of her hiding place, the Secret Annex.
I even ventured up to our own attic, to see if it would make a viable hiding place for my family if the Nazis ever decided to regroup and attack East Los Angeles.
I was awed by Anne's dexterity with words, how she so vividly wrote about herself and her experiences, laying out the people and places in her real life as if it were all an unfolding story.
Yet it was the intensity of Anne's feelings about her family that bonded me to her forever. I wanted to shout, "Yes, I know exactly how that feels!" when Anne felt misunderstood or picked on by her relatives.
It was not lost on me that Anne wrote everything down – and she was remembered.
Inspired, I began a makeshift diary of my own, utilizing a slim spiral notebook. When I had filled its pages, I bought a new one. Then another. Finally, my observant Aunt Lola gave me my favorite Christmas present ever – a red hard-bound volume, labeled Daily Journal.
My lifetime of diary-keeping had officially begun.
My brothers told me that diaries were for girls. Determined to prove them wrong, I made a special trip to the library and returned with "Guadalcanal Diary," Samuel Pepys's diaries, and "The Motorcycle Diaries" by Che Guevara. I made a show of reading these books, which I didn't really understand, just to silence my siblings' taunts.
I also began a ritual of rereading "The Diary of a Young Girl" at least once every six months. Without fail, as I drew near the close of the book, I would start hoping for a different ending – one in which the Allies would triumph in time for Anne to survive. Of course, this never occurred, and I would be heartbroken all over again.
Anne Frank was my introduction to the horrors of the Holocaust, and I was profoundly moved by her spirit. Only a short time before she died in a concentration camp at 16, she wrote, "In spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart."
Since it was first published in 1947, "The Diary of a Young Girl" has become one of the most widely read books in the world. It has been adapted into a Broadway play, a major film, an opera, and a television show.
Today, the narrow house at 263 Prinsengracht in Amsterdam, where Anne and her family hid for two years, is a museum with more than half a million visitors annually.
Despite such acclaim, I believe that Anne's greatest legacy is her ability, decades after her death, to connect with young hearts and minds all over the world.
As a kid fortunate enough to have had a trauma-free childhood, it never occurred to me that I didn't have much to write about.
I filled my diary with accounts of my daily life: squabbles with my brothers, worries over math grades, and my secret yearning to be discovered in Hollywood (a dream, in fact, I shared with Anne).
I faithfully kept my diary all through elementary and high school. After a brief interruption during my college years, I resumed keeping a daily account of my life – and still do so today.
Writing in my diary has been my moment for reflection, my time to sort out life. Over the years, people have asked me why I keep my diaries, since I don't reread them and I would never think of having them published. "Isn't it a waste of time?" my cousin asked. "Why do you write everything down if nobody is going to read it?"
I write in my diary because it frames my existence. Each entry is a chance to question myself and vent my emotions – my joys, my fears, my hopes. I am writing my life story, literally, and finding myself in the process. To quote Anne, "When I write, I can shake off all my cares."
I think of Anne Frank each night when I collect my thoughts and write a few pages in the hard-bound volume on my desk. Thanks to her, my own diary has been my friend and companion of a lifetime. And along the way, I have discovered one of my greatest truths: I have not fully experienced anything until I have written about it.