Anne Frank's Chestnut Tree: Self-Compassion and Resilience

I recently watched Jason Lazarus’ video “The top of the tree gazed upon by Anne Frank while in hiding” (Amsterdam, 2008) at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco. The 15-minute looped video was shot from the skylight of the annex where Anne and her family lived in hiding, and it allows the viewer to experience the tree (which was blown down in a 2010 storm) from Anne’s vantage point.

Included in the exhibit is an excerpt from Anne’s diary, where she wrote: “...from my favorite spot on the floor I look up at the blue sky and the bare chestnut tree on whose branches little raindrops shine, appearing like silver, and at the seagulls and other birds as they glide on the wind ... as long as this exists, I thought, and I may live to see it, this sunshine, the cloudless sky, while this lasts, I cannot be unhappy. ...”

As I watched the video footage of the chestnut tree, I was struck by Anne’s words, and the self-compassion and resilience I felt in them. In forming a relationship with this tree, she seems to have found a way to connect to a more expansive world outside of the annex where she and her family were hiding, and outside of 1940s Amsterdam and World War II. In naming the blue sky, chestnut tree, raindrops, birds, wind, and sunshine, she found an experience of timelessness and interconnectedness that was immediately available to her, even in such deeply trying circumstances.

The main aspects of self-compassion are awareness, a sense of common humanity/interconnectedness, and self-kindness. In her relationship with the chestnut tree and the world outside her window, Anne seemed to engage all three. She was aware of her difficult circumstances and also aware of the annex skylight ~ her one view to the outside. She expressed a sense of interconnectedness with the wider world through taking in the tree. And, she was kind to herself ~ she gave attention to the tree and the cloudless sky, and allowed the beauty she found there to nourish her.

Having this poignant point of contact with Anne Frank’s self-compassion and resilience, I was reminded of the everyday opportunities we all have to find nourishment in places we might easily overlook. If you are having a hard day and feeling challenged, stressed, burnt out, or self-critical, maybe there is a tree, a flower, a lake, or a patch of sky that you can connect with to remind yourself of your interconnectedness with a wider world. Or perhaps you can watch Jason Lazarus’ video, and find some sense of interconnection and timelessness where Anne Frank found it; in the top of that chestnut tree.