Anne Frank would have celebrated her 90th birthday today. Although her life was cut tragically short, so much of her preternatural wisdom survives to us thanks to her famous, existentially essential diary. In it, we are reminded of the humanity of every individual (and the horrible cost to societies who lose sight of this), and we are inspired—even shamed—by the cheerful perseverance of a child amidst circumstances far worse than any of us could ever know.
Page after page, despite the unimaginable terror Anne and her family lived with, we find profound meditations on meaning, happiness, and life. There’s perhaps no better an encapsulation of her spirit and resolve than this passage from one of her final entries:
“It’s a wonder I haven’t abandoned all my ideals, they seem so absurd and impractical. Yet I cling to them because I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart...I see the world being slowly transformed into a wilderness, I hear the approaching thunder that, one day, will destroy us too, I feel the suffering of millions. And yet, when I look up at the sky, I somehow feel that everything will change for the better, that this cruelty too shall end, that peace and tranquility will return once more. In the meantime, I must hold on to my ideals.”
To the ancient Stoics, no matter the circumstance, no matter how dire or desperate, how straightforward or scary, we must always fall back on one thing: virtue. As Marcus Aurelius reminded himself: “Just that you do the right thing. The rest doesn’t matter.” This was, to him, a recipe for peace and strength in those difficult circumstances.
In the darkest of hours, the most trying of times, each of us are tempted to abandon our ideals, our virtues. But if we can have courage, like Anne Frank, to remain steadfast and let virtue guide us, we can always find comfort in knowing that every step we take will be the right one.