In her parents’ bedroom, the one they share with her older sister, there are pencil marks squeezed on top of each other on a wall close to the doorframe, a set of data for each sister’s physical growth.
Data is supposed to be cold and rigid, but it shows me the humanity of two teenage girls, one a head shorter than me, one almost at eye level. Not much else that defines adolescence can be measured in here: there are no Little League trophies won at soccer tournaments or Stuart-Rodgers school portraits carted home in backpacks. The scribbled growth charts are a reminder that these two girls are still here, still becoming. Margot’s correspondence courses in English, French and Latin–these might be the only outside measure of academic performance still left.
A quote pasted on the kitchen wall from Anne’s journal reads, “Lunch today consists of mashed potatoes and pickled kale. You wouldn’t believe how much kale can stink when it’s a few years old!” Though the rest of her story tells of immense tragedy I haven’t felt, I’m in solidarity with her on the kale. It makes me glad to think that she wasn’t completely dulled and dimmed by two years of hiding, exclamation points still in her vocabulary.
A staircase grows crooked in the middle of Peter’s bedroom; Anne and Peter scale it in the mornings up to the attic for the stale air in their lungs to be traded in for a new day’s supply. She tells that their ears fill of church bells up there, a both refreshing and discouraging reminder that the outside world is still turning.
Middle school gave me this story. We read The Diary of a Young Girl, our class discussions crude 13-year-old attempts at understanding her world of Amsterdam and Peter and the intense fear of floorboards creaking with her weight. It was a world I couldn’t understand, caught up in my sweet suburb with ballet classes and Disney Channel and reading about Massie Block. Middle school gave me this story, but not until I stood in her home could I understand the gift of storytelling that Anne Frank showed the whole wide world into.
She knew she wanted to publish her diary as a book, and I like that. She wanted to be a famous writer and she is. After exiting the house, the museum is white, more modern, there are exhibits on the translation of her diary and on Fritz Pfeffer. Emma Thompson stood in this place in 2006 and said of Anne, “All her would-haves are our opportunities.”
That they are. The spunky girl who complained about kale also said, “How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.” In hiding, a life was stolen from her, but she still had hope. Her hope for people to improve the world is our opportunity.
Anne, if you were still here I’d want you to know that people whose hearts are defined by compassion are changing the world.
I’d want to tell you about Danny Daniels, a man whose decision to donate bone marrow saved a now-bride’s life. They got to dance together at her wedding. He allowed her to continue telling her story.
I’d tell you about Hummus Bar in Netanya, a coastal city in Israel. At this restaurant, a 50% discount on hummus for tables where Jews and Arabs sit together offers hope for a future defined by coexistence and peace. I’m thankful for people who are willing to hope for change, for the sharing of stories when the other can seem so demonized, in such war-torn areas.
I’d tell you about a show called Home Free, where nine couples competed for one dream home by renovating homes for “deserving families” each week–little did they know they were the deserving families. In the end after months of grit and tears and new friendships, all nine couples walked away with brand-new free homes for their families. My favorite parts of the show were when the white Mormon couple and black lesbian couple loved each other: they saw people before differences and created community.
I’d tell you about Mary Johnson and her capacity for mercy: she forgave the man who killed her son, then helped him get an apartment when he got out of jail–right next door. She invites him over for dinner weekly; they are friends. Their relationship is a testament of redemption in our world that often lets punishment and revenge rule. Mary started From Death to Life, an organization that encourages reconciliation between murderers and families.
I’d tell you about Malawi, because prevention stories aren’t heard enough: they’ve lowered their under-5 mortality rate enough since 1990 to save the lives of over 280,000 children. I grew up in a world where Africa was always poverty, death, and hunger. Malawi’s children get to keep living, so the narratives we write of Africa can include more childhood: more games and shrieks of laughter and growing up.
I’d tell you about all the friends I have, college students and moms and Young Life leaders and professors, who want to use their talents to add more smiles to the world–I need way more than two hands to count them all.
Anne, thanks for the lessons you teach us. When I doubt that compassion can reign over malice, murder and misunderstanding, I remember it was also you who taught me that “I’ve found there is always some beauty left.”