Cara Wilson-Granat is an author, inspirational speaker, and storyteller. She gives talks based on her book about the father of Anne Frank, Otto Frank, who was her longtime mentor for nearly 20 years since she was 12-years old to the time the two of them met in person at last in Basel, Switzerland. Cara’s new book–the final of three others about Otto Frank, is about to make its debut–Tree of Hope: Anne Frank’s Father Shares His Wisdom with an American Teen and the World.
Where did you grow up and what was your childhood like? Did you have any particular experiences/stories that shaped your adult life?
I grew up in the San Fernando Valley, California. I was very much loved and supported by my parents. However, the childhood I always considered truly happy was the one I had with my beautiful sons. When they were born, so was I.
I am grateful for the fact that my childhood home was one of acceptance and love for all beings; we cherished animals. We lived on a rambling ranch and I had many pets that were rescued and cared for. Our holidays were often filled with people of all races and religions gathered around our table. I never knew prejudice.
So, a particularly wrenching memory I had was in the mid-Fifties when I was traveling cross-country with my parents and little sister and we stopped at a gas station where I saw a water fountain with a sign above it titled, “Colored.” Besides myself, with excitement thinking that the water would actually be colorful I ran to turn on the spigot whereupon the gas station attendant stopped me telling me I couldn’t drink from that fountain. It was for colored people alone. I had absolutely no idea what he meant. Colored people? People with designs and colors on them? No. People who weren’t white. Shocked by the reality for the first time in my life at age ten that people were separated by the color of their skin, I remember sobbing to my parents, and wrote a poem at that time, “Always drink from the same fountain. Always climb the same mountain. Negro, Japanese, Hindu, White should all be friends and never fight…”
I still believe this with all my heart.
What is something you wish you would’ve realized earlier in your life?
I wish that I saw myself as smarter and prettier than I believed I was; that I didn’t have to compare myself to anyone else, but rather be the best me of all; that dreams actually do come true if you believe in them enough and you work hard enough to make them happen; that I was stronger and far more courageous physically, mentally, and spiritually than I knew (and that I should never give my power away, nor lose myself to anyone); that learning about numbers, money, the practical side of life could have opened many amazing doors to me had I not judged wealth and anything involving counting and money as something evil—and that it was a bad thing to be rich and only good people were poor. Oh, how I would have benefitted from learning such a lesson early in life—and so would have so many others in my life. This is one of my deepest regrets.
What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?
A red flag for me is when I’m told or hear others being told that they can’t do something; or shouldn’t do something; or that it’s a waste of time thinking that something will work. Don’t write that. Don’t say that. Don’t rock the boat! Really? Watch this!!! (I raised my sons to learn the rules and then break them. Both very successful, creative visionaries, they heeded that advice!)
How happy I am to this day for deflecting those who told me something similar—like not bothering to write to Anne Frank’s father, Otto Frank, because he would probably not write back and I’d be wasting his and my time. How grateful I am that I didn’t listen to that bad advice at age twelve. Even when Otto himself expressed that after his first letter to me it would be the last one because he was so busy, etc., I didn’t listen. I let him know that I just wanted to write to him. I wasn’t fazed by the subtle rejection. And of course, in time he realized I wasn’t going away and he began answering me—for nearly twenty years.
I tell everyone—my young audiences in particular—to write to every and anyone they want to even if they never receive an answer back. The courageous act of showing up and putting yourself out there in spite of all the nay-sayers is what it’s all about.
Tell me about one of the darker periods you’ve experienced in life. How you came out of it and what you learned from it?
I had a few dark periods in the chapters of my life as so many of us do, but there is one pivotal time that absolutely shook me to the core and restarted me. It was when I was not quite fifty years old (20+ years ago) and was slammed by the unthinkable. My nearly 25-year marriage was ending. Due to financial loss and bankruptcy, we lost our wonderful house in the Hollywood Hills in which we’d raised our two beautiful sons.
Even worse, I was hit with betrayal, divorce, and all kinds of shock including the terror of starting my life all alone for the absolute very first time. I was heading out on my own with the exception of my six animals with me, (both my sons were off in college). I had hit bottom completely and didn’t know how and when I could and would ever stand up again.
The thing is, I not only did stand up, but I also flew. I grew. I thrived. I fought off anyone who wanted to baby nor consider me a victim of my circumstances. I discovered early on in my journey from there to here that what was happening to me was a major, significant Life Lesson. An inner voice shouted loud and clear in my soul that I needed to start fresh and learn rather than succumb to my circumstances. It was the beginning of an Alice in Wonderland nightmare I could have never imagined in a million years. But, what I thought was going to be my demise, turned out to be my rebirth. I juggled tons of jobs; published the first of my Otto Frank books and savored brief notoriety; also published two other books, one on “The Strength of Nature” and the other, soon to be republished, “It Takes a Lot of Shit to Make a Garden Grow.”
I see my life—all of our lives—as a garden of possibilities. Mother Nature is the greatest teacher of all. I learn tremendous lessons from the natural world. If we use our pain and tears and terror like fodder and mulch feeding and seeding/nurturing what is before us, then we are transformed into gardeners, students, teachers but never, ever victims.
If we partake in the Blame Game, we lose every time. The only two choices we ever have are between Love and Fear/Hate. That’s it. The choice as to how we want to conquer and climb our own mountains is in our own hands.
And in the final analysis, it was following the example of Otto Frank himself that freed me from that face-plant place I found myself in years ago. When we finally met in person after all those years of correspondence, I asked Otto if he knew who betrayed him. He quietly said, “It doesn’t matter.” Those words resonated with me as powerfully then as they do today. He had made a choice to honor his daughter’s wish to go on living even after her death and he gave her words to the world. Otto Frank then transferred his parenting to all of us young people who needed his wise and loving counsel. Not a bitter, nor revengeful man, he transformed all his pain and loss and anger and made what really mattered love and acceptance; and that enlightened decision saved not only me but legions of others who reached out to him as well. I realized very early while facing my own terror and fury that if Otto Frank could get up off the floor after all he had lost, then I could, too. He told me during an especially hopeless time our country was experiencing during the Sixties, “If the end of the world would be imminent, I still would plant a tree today.” And he had two trees planted in my name. That changed my life.
What is one thing that you do that you feel has been the biggest contributor to your success so far?
I am blessed with loving and being loved by my precious family and friends. It is this love for and from them that feeds who I am. It is the passion I feel for this precious and fragile life–and those beings of all life forms within it that touch my heart and give me purpose and hope. I absolutely cannot speak of and inspire others about love and hope if I’m empty. If I allow myself to focus on the tsunami of sorrow in our world then I become immobilized and even sick by the sadness and am worthless both to myself and others. The challenge is to see and know it and do whatever I can to help even one being embrace higher ground and then I do what I can to refocus on what is truly possible in my own life. And that is the power of love.
I am a storyteller. I help others write their own stories as well as continue my freelance advertising/marketing career that helps me hone my writing skills and stay fresh and current in my thinking and perspective. I also continue writing my own projects that excite me. I especially love speaking to and inspiring/educating groups (now mostly via Zoom). I stay current by following the global news as well as read endless books.
But one of the strongest gifts I give myself and I believe contributes greatly to my own personal success and life’s purpose is to make sure that I am helping to fight and shine a light on/speak out against injustices—to animals; all of nature and our gasping ecosystem; and forever fight cruelty, racism, bigotry, anti-Semitism, sex discrimination and ageism, etc., etc., etc. With the growing hatred and fear within our country and entire world being fed daily in the most virulent ways I feel I must continue to wake up, revive, instill, calm, and embrace others to understand in some way that we are never separate. We are One. We are here to be together in love not divided by hate. My books have offered me a forum upon which I can speak these truths.
What is your morning routine?
I wake up around 6:00 a.m. or earlier and have a steaming cup of hot water and lemon. Then a cup of coffee and a green drink packed with everything healthy in it for my husband and me, plus a handful of vitamins. Feed our cat. Feed the birds on our balcony.
Afterward, if we’re not hiking in the Rockies, we walk in our neighborhood for 2-3 miles, do our individual exercise routines (swimming, Yoga, Tai Chi, weights, etc.) I go on YouTube and do my Tapping Routines to align my mind and body. And then start writing.
What habit or behavior that you have pursued for a few years has most improved your life?
Though I have a deep love for all the arts, (I was intent on being a dancer eons ago), my love for music and theater and dance, etc. is alive in my soul. Gratefully, that love has been shared with and passed on to my sons and grandsons. And I’ve continued jamming on guitars with Peter and any others who jam with us. So much fun!
But the best of me is romping in the great outdoors. Anytime I’m out in nature I am home. I read everything I can as well as study all things trees, animals (from elephants to octopuses), the precious beauty of Mother Nature—my greatest Teacher.
Thanks to my sweet husband, Peter’s passion and career as a Fly Fishing Guide, I am more and more experiencing some of the most breathtaking natural beauty as I sit riverside in my chair with books, bug spray, water bottle, and writing supplies while he fishes (only “catch and release”, thankfully!).
The joy I receive feeding the birds on our balcony, weekly visits from our grandson and our grand doggy, meeting and greeting every and any animal of all species is priceless. Animals are the angels of our planet and anytime I’m around them I am truly the happiest. If I could live inside an animal sanctuary forever I would be living my bliss.
What are your strategies for being productive and using your time most efficiently?
At this “seasoned” time in my life, I am more focused on my health than ever before. Admittedly a tad of a neurotic, I tend to magnify every and any ache and pain. But that’s part of being a senior being I suppose—the good and the sucky part of it. So I am following East and West healers and medical practitioners as they guide me to healthier practices. As a vegan, I have a happier palette for my morale. But aside from that, I am ever more conscious of time and each moment and how I want to focus my day and life—and, yes, how I want to be remembered. The grains of time are swift and quite final. I make sure that if I want to socialize it’s not with a “vampire” who drains my spirit with negativity, anger, and fear, but rather a delightful being who uplifts me with laughter and surprise, and knowledge. Every moment is more precious than ever. I make sure that people I love hear from me. I grab impulse and make calls. I try not to put off essential moments that should be celebrated now. I am feeding my mind/body/spirit with good stuff that replenishes and uplifts me. I’m trying to ease up on my sugar intake though if you take away my dark chocolate I might bite you. Just sayin’!
I am reading and rereading some of my favorite teachers, Echart Tolle, Brian Weiss, Wayne Dwyer, Mr. Rogers, Elie Wiesel, Viktor E. Frankl, Wallace Stegner, Fenelon, Yoda, Mark Nepo, Gary Zukav, Jane Goodall, Sy Montgomery, plus so many authors and poets I’ve followed and adored through the years. They each nourish my soul.
Basically, I am making a concerted effort to love and appreciate who I am; something I never did from day one of my life. It’s time to stop beating myself up. I signed up for this crazy Earth School and am doing the best I can. Most of us are, right? Perfection is overrated. Being human is a challenge and has nothing at all to do with being perfect. That’s what I tell others and it’s about time I listened (i.e., practice what I preach!) I write far more than I ever have. And I take more time to pace myself and listen, breathe, pray, meditate. Walking meditation and prayer I find more effective than anything else. I feel more creative and focused knowing that time is so sacred and fleeting. What needs to be done should be done now. And that’s not just an “old” thing. We should all grab each moment while we have it. Nothing and no one is guaranteed.
What book(s) have influenced your life the most? Why?
The Diary of Anne Frank. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury. I love each of these books because they reflect the voices of young people—their observations, perspectives, honesty, the pure exquisiteness of what a child feels and sees. They spoke to me in a way that helped me realize I wasn’t alone; and also shined a light on a side of life that was as cruel as it was beautiful; as simple as it was complex. I always identified with their narrative—the pain and pathos of life and humanity at its best and worst. Like looking at the dark side of the moon as well as its radiant, hypnotic beauty.
The Diary of Anne Frank has turned out to influence my life’s path and purpose—honoring her legacy and that of her beloved father, Otto Frank.
Do you have any quotes you live by or think of often?
The hope-filled quote by my cherished mentor, Otto Frank, Anne Frank’s father distills the truth for me, “If the end of the world would be imminent, I still would plant a tree today.”