“I believe in the sun even when it’s not shining. I believe in love even when there’s no one there. I believe in God even when He is silent.” ~ Inscription of Hope
Words originally found scratched into a cellar wall where Jewish people hid during World War II.
Words appearing on a handmade sign my nearly 13-year-old-daughter and I found at a garden shop in the North Carolina mountains this past weekend. (above photo.)
Words handwritten on a torn index card–a bookmark–my daughter had penned: lyrics to a song she loved and sang in chorus last year.
The bookmark marked my daughter’s page, about one third of the way through The Diary of Anne Frank. She rushed to me with the book clutched tightly to her chest and announced, “I am not going to read any more of this book, Mommy.”
I paused. I wondered why.
She said “It doesn’t feel right to read her words, to read her diary. Anne wrote that she didn’t even share her entries with her father. She said she didn’t want anyone to read it, so I’m not going to read it. I can’t.”
I listened to the unflinching conviction in her voice–my daughter, my teacher.
She and I have learned–and felt–a lot together about the Holocaust. We have talked about the suffering, the horrors, the senseless, the mercilessness. And we also have talked of the unrelenting strength and courage of the human spirit, and the power of the helpers who chose, to risk and do what they could to help.
In November of 2014 we visited the Virginia Holocaust Museum–a very unsettling school field trip that neither of us looked forward to. I thought about denying her this trip, but my gut told me that we had to go together.
It was very painful. There were parts I could not participate, like the small room simulating a concentration camp gas chamber where a tour guide led the parents, teachers and children together into an enclosed box-like-room, to talk about what happened to the people when the door closed.
Unfathomable. I couldn’t go in. I couldn’t do it. Instead I sat on a bench outside. I told my daughter she didn’t have to go in, but she said she was ok, and I let her go with her class, all the while doubting her “learning experience,” every second we were apart.
Parts of the Museum were so inspirational–a testament to humanity shining it’s greatest love, compassion and potential. The Museum overall is a space offering loving redemption triumphing over the hatred that was. It was powerful and unforgettable, and I don’t regret going for a second.
After the field trip we both talked about whether it was necessary to re-enact a gas chamber, wondering what good could come from such pantomime–using space and presence now to recreate and imagine the way so many humans died. Perhaps it was necessary for people today, perhaps it was important or somehow profound to re-enact. She and I didn’t know, but it felt extremely jarring and perverse–as most things about the Holocaust do.
Months later, we remembered that pretend room, that was the real ending to millions of people’s lives. It stayed with us.
And now, today, nearly a year after our museum visit, about Anne’s diary my daughter continued, “It doesn’t seem right that a book company took her words–her diary–and turned them into a book. I mean, I understand her story is important, but Anne wouldn’t have shared it that way. If she had lived maybe she would have told her story in a different way, re-written it, but she wouldn’t have shared it the way it is printed now, and it feels wrong to me for me to be reading it.”
I sat down. My heart was pounding in my ears, my eyes were filled with tears. I told her that it was her choice to read the book or not and that perhaps there was no right or wrong about the reading of the book, even though that was what Anne explicitly written.
We continued a thoughtful conversation about how Anne’s words have helped to activate greater empathy and compassion in people who may have otherwise not had such depth of heart. Perhaps her diary has shaped a generation that may never allow such horrors to repeat again in our lifetime, at least in our part of the planet.
We contemplated: Perhaps Anne would be pleased …. grateful for the extension of her life through the legacy of her words, words continuing to inspire and expand compassion, and empathy. Perhaps. Perhaps not.
I wondered if Anne’s diary offers a necessary lesson for people who do not have a depth of empathy, compassion and awareness that she–my daughter–has.
We hugged each other. And then I told my beauty-full–heart-full girl, that I never finished Anne’s diary, either.
[My daughter gave permission to share our conversation here. She and I welcome your thoughts about Anne, her diary, our collective reading of it, and the importance of this book–Anne’s story–to you and the world. If you’d like to share, please do comment below.]
with love from my heart (still in my throat),
<3 becky <3
p.s. Joyfuel rises October 9th, 2015.