“What is most striking to me today about the diary I kept in the camp, seventy-five years ago, is what I left out.”
By: Gabriela Yareliz
WHAT IS LEFT UNSAID
I was struck by a piece I read in The New Yorker, called My Terezin Diary, about a holocaust survivor, Zuzana Justman, looking back at a diary she wrote while imprisoned in a Nazi camp.
It wasn’t just the historical context of when she wrote that fascinated me, but more the fact that she admitted that there was so much that had been on her mind 24/7, which she never dared write about.
She never really wrote about her brother’s illness, how she was watching her parents’ marriage disintegrate, or how she felt about her mother’s affair. She wrote about none of that, even though it preoccupied her mind. She is the first person I have heard talk about this, and it struck me because the same happened to me.
I was an avid diary writer. There must be boxes in the shed filled with the little books I wrote. I would average about 8-14 pages a day. I often poured my heart into these little spiral-bound notebooks. Interestingly enough, I started diary writing around the years just before my parents separated. I had my little gel pens and tape ready, each afternoon. Sometimes, I would carry it in my book bag. I was a candid writer. (Maybe, I still am?) But as I got older, I found that I wrote less and less. I wrote cryptically as well, even though I literally had nothing to hide.
One of my last diaries was in college, and this was after a long gap of no writing. I had already started writing here. I wrote about stupid failed crushes and my hopes to return to France again. The very last one was one of heartbreak. It is filled with poems and deep sadness. The diary marked the end of a relationship that I hoped would lead to marriage, and a weird beginning to a period of transition into the person I am today.
I stopped journaling. And long before I stopped journaling, I realize I stopped seeing the world a certain way. There would be no more monologues about soulmates and Shakespearean fate. There would be none of that because I didn’t believe in that anymore.
I don’t think I ever wrote candidly about much of anything serious after my little world fell apart at 12-13 years old. I was really confused and trapped in my own head, trying to figure out what was going on in an adult world that was suffering but keeping quiet about most things.
I don’t think I ever wrote about how angry I was at my father. I don’t think I ever wrote about what it was like to be homeless. I didn’t write about hope or dreams. I was just sort of living life and surviving it. Trying to be the best daughter I could and trying to not make things harder than they already were.
In college, on the other end, I was alone a lot. I had my friends from the cricket team I reported for, who were like brothers to me. And my notebooks were filled with tiny witty stories and moments, Bollywood songs, and sports diagrams and little lists of names and practice dates. When my heart was broken, I wallowed for a bit. Argued with God, A LOT, and I spent a lot of time in observation of the world.
(Clip from the film Le Battement D’Ailes du Papillon)
I was into observing how even the batting of a butterfly wing could send a ripple effect into the universe. The very French battement d’ailes du papillon.
“You see, every detail, every gesture, as slight as it may be, reveals an infinity of truths and thus has an endless repercussion and grandiose effects.”
Le Battement D’ailes du Papillon
As I grew into my own, I was determined that I would use every single thing as a lesson, and that I would be most efficient by learning from other’s mistakes, and the world around me. I became a bit of a perfectionist in some aspects and adopting the too-French-to-care attitude in others. I became quite the observer, but while I observed and I grew, I learned to push past the hurts and loneliness. It became my goal not to feel things but to push past them. I just needed to be strong. GET. IT. TOGETHER. was my motto.
What gets me about Ms. Justman’s writing is that those of us who have had this experience where we do not write or talk about that which is on our mind or that which hurts us is because we do not feel safe about something.
Maybe, it’s different for all of us. Perhaps, we just simply aren’t afraid or threatened by anything external but by ourselves.
Could it be that we as humans are slightly afraid to feel? We are afraid of the emotions that rage inside of us like a tempest because we aren’t sure we can ride the wave? We are afraid our emotions mean we have failed at something? Ms. Justman certainly experienced more trauma than the average person today. The holocaust was a horrific dark period of history.
That said, one person’s experience doesn’t nullify our own. I walk around in a city where I see so much brokenness. So much hurt. So much injustice. So much loneliness.
So much fear.
As I read the piece in my magazine while sitting on the train, I sort of wanted to burst into tears and cry for the suffering of the world. I can’t imagine how God feels. I wanted to hug Ms. Justman’s child self. I wanted to hug my child self.
I am a big believer in vulnerability and speaking truth. I think it is because of this that I was so surprised to spot in myself this undeniable tiptoeing around my very real thoughts and emotions. There was so much in my own life that I have left unsaid, even though I feel like a person who can fill any silence offered. Me, Ms. Vulnerability, who tells others they should be more open, was the same person who hesitated to write out my own emotions for myself. I let the gel pens dry up.
I am convinced I am not alone. We have all dealt with heartbreak or loneliness, trauma or shame. What happens when we allow ourselves to feel?
Are we afraid to be human? We like to frame things nicely, and dot our ‘i’s, and we tie things up in bows.
What if we sat in the mess of our feelings and thoughts, as if they were a pile of laundry dumped from a basket after drying, just for a minute– just long enough to give ourselves permission to feel?
FEELING IN THE RAW
Every single person is different. So there is never a recipe.
But, I just want to end by saying that just because we don’t acknowledge something doesn’t mean it’s not there. If I am standing beside you in a room, and you ignore me, that doesn’t mean I am not there. If you are walking by too quickly and miss me, that doesn’t mean I was not there.
I am uncomfortable. I am talking about things I don’t usually discuss. I certainly don’t remember writing about them. But, here we are. Ms. Justman’s brave acknowledgement reminded me that I don’t want to wait until 75 years from now to see all that I dared not say.
“I don’t want to wait until 75 years from now to see all that I dared not say.”
If we could only slow down. If we could face ourselves. Ask yourself if there is something you never dared to voice. It could be anger, it could be joy, it could be worry or sadness.
Let’s stop pretending that just because we didn’t “write it”, it didn’t happen. Respecting our memories and our emotions can be one of the most powerful things we can do for ourselves.
Feel it. Feeling doesn’t equate being overtaken by anything. Just allow yourself to feel. When we acknowledge reality, we end up acknowledging our place in all of it.
Strength is not in what is left unsaid, but it’s in the person still standing after all is said and done.
I hope that in the end we find that we were brave enough to love ourselves, not just in word but in deed.
Thank you to Ms. Justman for bravely writing her story, and thank you to my friend Martha, who is always daring me to be my most authentic self.