Thursday April 18, 2013

Peter S. Kahrmann

Until today (Sunday, April 14) I’d never really given much thought to Canadian pop star Justin Bieber, other than noting in some pictures he may well be the answer to where all the Brylcreem went. (Brylcreem was a popular hair tonic for men in the 1950s.)

Until today I hadn’t given him much thoughtÅ  until recently, when I learned he visited the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam and wrote the following in the guestbook: "Truly inspiring to be able to come here. Anne was a great girl. Hopefully she would have been a belieber." (It seems young girls in Canada obsessed with Bieber are call beliebers.)

Annelies "Anne" Marie Frank and her older sister Margot Frank died of typhus in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in March 1945. Anne was 15, Margot, 19. Anne kept a diary from 1942 to 1944. The diary, given to her on her thirteenth birthday, documents her life from June 12, 1942 to Aug. 1, 1944. As anyone who’s not been living under a rock knows, it was later published and is unquestionably one of the most remarkable testaments to the human capacity for courage, goodness, love, integrity, and, not at all incidentally, unflinching honesty. A testament made all the more remarkable given that it was written by a 13 then 14-year-old girl.

Death by typhus is brutal. The disease can be carried by lice, ticks, rats, fleas, harvest mites. Sufferers often endure high fevers, chills, rashes, severe pain, delirium, coughing, vomiting. Pictures taken at Bergen-Belsen of those who died from typhus are gut wrenching. Anne’s and Margot’s death and all they suffered before their deaths is horrifying beyond the reach of any group of words, even those penned by the most perceptive and compassionate minds.

So, what to think (or do) about an arrogant, self-absorbed, insensitive guestbook entry written by a 19-year-old Canadian kid pumped up on fame and fortune, idolized by thousands. Heady stuff for sure. It took me about an hour to rid myself of the admittedly kneejerk (instinctive) desire to gut and splay my young Canadian neighbor all over the page. It took me about an hour because I am, like most, a flawed human being. But, thankfully, I know this. Which is why, I would like to think, that in reading online responses to Bieber’s insensitive arrogance, it was the words one person quote in response. Anne Frank’s words. Words that right-sized me nearly in an instant.

Anne Frank wrote: "Despite everything, I believe that people are really good at heart." That stilled my anger, my outrage, and the sick feeling in the pit of my stomach after reading Bieber’s words.

She wrote: "The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere where they can be quiet, alone with the heavens, nature and God. Because only then does one feel that all is as it should be." That calmed me, led me to remember what for me is the best definition of humility I’ve ever heard: Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it is thinking less about yourself.

So, perhaps Bieber, or someone close to him, will encourage him to "go outside, somewhere were (he) can be quiet, alone with the heavens, nature and God. Because only then does one feel that all is as it should be." As it should be, I believe, includes humility, understanding that while we do not have to think less of ourselves we must understand it (life) is not all about ourselves. Something Anne Frank knew. Something I’m still learning. Something, I hope, Justin Bieber learns.

That’s all for now. Be well. Stay safe. Remember to live.

Peter S. Kahrmann is a Banner columnist.