When I was around 10 or 11, I read Anne Frank’s diary for the first time. It was one of those books that I felt deeply. Anne and I were so similar: both young girls who wanted to be writers, both born in June, both loved our parents deeply and yet felt constantly misunderstood by them, both with the middle name of Marie. I remember in the midst of reading it trying to start my own diary- something I’ve never done well- and naming it Kitty, like Anne.
I read the book over and over again, hoping for a different ending, each time heartbroken that history couldn’t change.
When I was 13 or 14, I was gifted a DVD of the Anne Frank miniseries with Ben Kingsley playing Otto. I remember begging my parents to watch it with me, and being nearly depressed after. I was enraged that the world could go on when this girl did not. And I remember my dad (who probably doesn’t remember this) sitting me down and telling me that maybe I should take a break from watching the miniseries over and over.
“You can’t dwell on this,” he told me. “You have to live your life and choose to hope. That’s the whole point. That’s how she goes on.”
Like Anne, I felt very misunderstood by a very loving father.
When I got word that I had received the Fund fellowship, I tried to buy tickets to Anne Frank’s house just a few weeks later, but the pre-booked tickets were already sold out. (How crazy!) Fortunately after 3:30 we were able to stand in line to enter the house and museum.
The line was roughly 2 hours long, and luckily I had a few books saved to a Kindle app on my phone. The last few months I’ve been swimming in Madeleine L’Engle’s works- I mentioned her a few posts ago- and so today I worked to finish the second book of the Wrinkle in Time series, A Wind in the Door. I am forever sad that these books do not get the fame or the tout that Lewis’s Narnia or Tolkien’s Middle Earth does, because they are exquisite in beauty and science. I hate science, and Madeleine has made me love it, the interconnectedness of all the world, from mitochondria to the stars. In this second book, the protagonist, Meg, must go through a series of trials to aid her dying brother, and the first is she must learn to love the principal who has made her life hell. Repeatedly she tells her supernatural helpmate, a cheribum, that she can’t do it, that she hates Mr. Jenkins, and repeatedly he tells her that she is a Namer: she can either name Mr. Jenkins by loving him, or she can let him be “X-ed” or extinguished.
The cherubim repeatedly turns her to her calling of Namer: “A Namer has to know who people are, and who they are meant to be… If someone knows who he is, really knows, then he doesn’t need to hate. That’s why we still need Namers, because there are places throughout the universe like your planet Earth. When everyone is really and truly Named, then [evil] will be vanquished.”
I think that Anne was- and continues to be -a Namer as well.
I wrote about reading this book with my students a few months ago, and that one student pointed out that Anne’s diary entries from 1944 line up with those dates of 2017: Wednesday, 3 May 1944; Wednesday, 3 May 2017. When I looked to see what her entry was for today, there wasn’t one. The closest was for this last Saturday, July 15th, one of her last entries and most quoted:
“It’s a wonder I haven’t abandoned all my ideals, they seem so absurd and impractical. Yet I cling to them because I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart… It’s utterly impossible for me to build my life on a foundation of chaos, suffering and death. I see the world being slowly transformed into a wilderness, I hear the approaching thunder that, one day, will destroy us too, I feel the suffering of millions. And yet, when I look up at the sky, I somehow feel that everything will change for the better, that this cruelty too shall end, that peace and tranquility will return once more.”
A Namer must know who people are; who they were meant to be.
We walked through the annex that her family hid in, up the stairs and past the bookcase. In the small room with blacked-out windows and dim lighting we looked at where she wrote most of her diary, the faces of movie stars and royals pasted to the wall looking down on her- perhaps the place where she wrote the passage above. We could see the small map Otto kept pinned to the wall, marking the advancements of Allied troops, and the place where they marked the growth of the Frank girls, Anne 13cm in two years, Margot 1.
Near the end was a small display of how her diary came to be, her desire to create a novel based on it to share with the world, and how her father- the sole survivor of the 8 in the annex- honored her wishes, named her as she was meant to be, gave her story to the world. The final exhibit was several videos of well-known people who had read Anne Frank and those who knew her: tourists speaking to the power of her story; childhood friends sharing that she was not the only person in the Holocast and reminding us that she did not die, but was killed; Nelson Mandela sharing the encouragement her book gave while he was imprisoned in Robben Island.
Each person having read this July 15th entry, each learning how Anne named the world around her, called forth the goodness from humanity she believed to be there.
And then, the final clip was of Emma Thompson speaking at an event at the museum a few years ago. Emma said, “All her would-haves are our opportunities.” This line is included throughout the museum.
When I wrote the first post on Anne Frank and reading the book with my students, I shared that the question we wrestled with was where we could find hope. I think that this is it: that this would-have and was for Anne is our opportunity. We, too, can be Namers. We can know who people are, name them so there is no more room for hate, no more room to kill. We can cling to this ideal and name it into reality. In naming, we are all on the same side, no us and them. In naming, we create peace and tranquility and evil will vanquish.
I think this is the hope, but it’s a hope that we must choose time and time again. This is what I missed when I read the book as a young girl and watched that miniseries over and over again, and I think what my dad was trying to tell me. I’m grateful we get to learn this from Anne and all who have read her story and continue to choose Naming and hope, too.