As a teenager, Corrie is attending one of Mama’s impromptu parties when she meets Karel, one of Willem’s friends from seminary. She takes one look at him and falls in love. She’s content just to look at him, even though he doesn’t seem to notice her. A plain and shy girl, she’s used to being ignored, while graceful Nollie receives all the male attention.
Even though Corrie feels secondary compared to Nollie, it’s important that she doesn’t resent her sister. Her acceptance of her own personal lot is an important cornerstone of her faith.
Two years later, Corrie and Nollie travel to Willem’s university to visit. His friends soon arrive at his apartment, Karel among them. Corrie is surprised and thrilled to see that he remembers her, even after such a long time. Although she feels out of place in the grown-up conversation, he takes pains to include her, asking what she wants to do when she grows up.
In a sense, Karel mirrors the kindliness that Corrie associates with Father, making sure to give Corrie special attention even though she’s the youngest and most insecure member of the group.
After graduating secondary school, Corrie takes over the work of the household. Her presence is especially important because Tante Bep has contracted tuberculosis and Tante Anna, who normally runs the household, is nursing her around the clock. To avoid contagion, no one else in the family is allowed inside Tante Bep’s room. Corrie loves the work, but she’s often struck by regret for Bep’s “disgruntled and disappointed” life—she spent her entire adulthood serving in the houses of rich people, and by the mementos and photos that she prizes it seems to Corrie that she wishes she was still there.
Tante Bep’s life forms a sort of contrast with Corrie’s. Although both spend their lives doing lowly work within the domestic sphere and neither marry, Bep’s life is less satisfying because she spends it in servitude to wealthy people. In contrast, even though her material circumstances are little different, Corrie finds greater fulfillment because she’s actively aiding vulnerable people.
One day, Corrie brings up this thought with Mama, who herself is often sick and bedridden. Even so, she never pities her life but spends her time writing cheerful letters to “shut-ins all over Haarlem,”— never seeming to notice that she herself is basically a shut-in. Mama points out to Corrie that Bep is unhappy wherever she is. She only praises her former employers so highly because she’s no longer with them. Mama reminds Corrie that happiness isn’t dependent on one’s surroundings, but rather “something we make inside ourselves.”
In her remark about happiness, Mama is talking not just about Bep but herself—even though she’s incapacitated by illness, she doesn’t let this affect her demeanor or her sense of responsibility towards others. Later, when she’s imprisoned in concentration camps, Corrie will draw strength from the idea that happiness is dependent on the individual rather than the circumstances.
Soon, Tante Bep dies. Mama and Tante Anna deal with their sadness by redoubling their charitable efforts, and Tante Jans responds by dwelling on the possibility of death even more than before. A few years after this, the young family doctor diagnoses Tante Jans with diabetes—in those days, a fatal disease. Tante Jans immediately takes to her bed, but then surprises the family by getting up the next day and redoubling her writing efforts and devoting herself to the religious clubs she organizes.
The family doesn’t expect that Tante Jans will have the strength to deal with her diagnosis, especially since it exacerbates her lifelong fear of illness. Her startling ability to do so reflects their belief that God helps people confront misfortune by endowing them with new fortitude.
Each week, a complicated test must be run to analyze Tante Jans’s blood sugar. To save the expense of doctor’s visits, Corrie learns to perform the test herself with the help of the doctor’s sister and nurse, Tine. While she gets used to this task, Willem returns home from university; his presence cheers everyone, as does his pleasant voice as he reads aloud after dinner. As he’s doing this one day, the doorbell rings and Corrie runs downstairs to see Tine, bringing some flowers for Mama. Guided by a sudden instinct and inspired by the romantic novels she loves, Corrie insists that Tine bring the flowers into the parlor herself. She’s gratified to see Willem look at her “as though there were not another soul in the room.”
Tine is a fairly minor character, but the competence she models as a nurse and her role caring for others align her with the ten Booms’ ethos and principles. It’s also interesting that Willem’s romantic attachments spring from previous family connections—this reinforces the sense that the ten Booms are deeply integrated into their community and eager to welcome new people into their family.
Two months after Willem’s ordination, he and Tine get married. Corrie is especially excited because she knows Karel will be there and see her in her new silk dress and intricate hairdo. When she finally greets him, he enchants her by remarking on how grown-up and “lovely” she is.
This is one of the few moments in which Corrie cares about clothes or appearances, but it’s clear that she does so only because they reflect her heightened emotional state.
Months later, Corrie is devastated to see that Tante Jans’s weekly blood test has come out badly. Corrie runs to the doctor and he confirms that Jans has three weeks to live at most. After a brief conference, the family goes to Tante Jans and breaks the news gently. They attempt to comfort her by reminding her how much she’s accomplished, but Tante Jans just breaks into tears and whispers that the only true accomplishment is Jesus’s death on the cross, and that “all we need in life or death is to be sure of this.” Corrie feels that she’s witnessed a “mystery” in Tante Jans’s ability to accept such a long-feared event so bravely.
Here, Tante Jans models Father’s long-expressed belief that God gives people strength when they need it most. She also expresses more humility than ever before—while she’s always been proud and even self-important about her work, now she understands that the only important thing in life is one’s faith. Even though her impending death is a tragedy, it’s also a moment of great moral strength and connection to the divine.
Four months after Tante Jans’s death, the family travels to watch Willem’s first sermon—a huge milestone and point of pride in the Dutch Reformed Church. Friends and family converge on Willem’s parish and stay for days, including Karel. As soon as he arrives at Willem and Tine’s house, he takes Corrie on a long walk. This becomes their daily custom, and they discuss their future plans, talking about a shared life even though Karel has not explicitly mentioned marriage.
It’s important to note that while Willem’s life centers around his blossoming career as a minister, the only path out of the house for Corrie is through marriage. The distinctions between gender among which she grows up limit her options and make her dependent on her attractiveness to potential suitors like Karel.
One morning, Willem corners Corrie and gently tells her that if Karel has implied that he’s serious about her, he’s leading her on. Karel’s family is determined that he marry a wealthy woman, and he has resigned himself to fulfilling their wishes. Willem knows he will never go against them, not even for her. Corrie hastily ends the conversation and tells herself that Willem doesn’t understand romantic affairs and that things will certainly work out.
Although Corrie is herself a young adult, Karel has all the power in this situation because it’s socially unacceptable for Corrie, a woman, to express her feelings or desire for marriage first. This gender divide allows Karel to indulge his feelings for her without entangling himself with a woman of insufficient fortune.
Soon after this, Karel returns to his own parish, but not before urgently pleading with Corrie to write him every day about events at the Beje. Corrie writes often, but his letters arrive infrequently. One afternoon months later, Karel visits the Beje without warning, bringing a young woman he introduces as his fiancée. Corrie feels like she’s in shock, but she manages to bring him upstairs and sit through the visit as if nothing is wrong. As soon as he leaves, she runs to her room, sobbing.
It’s clear that Karel is torn between his attraction to the lifestyle at the Beje and his desire for greater wealth and social status. Despite Corrie’s attraction to Karel, the worldly ambitions that he has and she lacks make it unlikely that they would be suitable partners.
After some time, Corrie hears Father climbing the stairs. She’s afraid he will comfort her with some platitude about finding someone else, even though she knows Karel is the only love of her life. Instead, he tells her that when love is “blocked,” one must choose whether to kill it, and thus kill part of oneself as well, or to “ask God to open up another route for that love to travel.” He says that if Corrie asks God, he will give her his “perfect” love, a love she wouldn’t be able to feel by herself.
Father is basically saying that Corrie can either remain angry at Karel, thus corrupting the original love which brought her such joy, or, with God’s help, forgive him and eventually feel a purer and more satisfying form of love. This argument forms the bedrock of Corrie’s later beliefs about the importance of forgiveness, which she argues is not just a good deed but of personal benefit to the forgiver as well.
Listening to Father, Corrie doesn’t yet know that this advice will sustain her through far more drastic situations, in moments where “there was not, on a human level, anything to love at all.”
Stepping back from her narrative for a moment, Corrie emphasizes the fact that her family life, and the religious teachings she learned as a child, influence and enable her later work.
For now, Corrie tries to get over her feelings for Karel “without giving up the joy and wonder that had grown with it.” She prays fervently for God to allow her to see Karel as He does, and falls asleep.
By overcoming her feelings of anger or hurt, Corrie is not just practicing kindness towards Karel but becoming closer to God.