Choosing Good in Spite of Everything Else

I have been thinking a lot about Anne Frank recently.  Today, I spent almost an hour pouring over photos of the hiding place, examining the artifacts and relics of two desperate families hiding.

And as they were hiding, this young girl wrote in her diary a work of literature that I have read several times but never really thought about.

Growing up, Anne Frank was a name I had been taught over and over again and expected to just absorb into me, like an intellectual osmosis.  But I never really thought about her.  Ironically, though many teachers had drilled her story into my head, none of them actually talked about Anne, none of these teachers asked me to read anything she had written.  In eight grade, while my insane English teacher screamed about us about something (I learned that year that a lot is two words.  That’s it), I read the play The Diary of Anne Frank on the sly.

Over the next couple of years, I started and stopped reading her diary.  Eventually, I made it from cover to cover.

And it hurt me to read not just her words.  Because, in so many respects, I don’t know that I really paid attention to them.  Maybe it was jealousy that she was such a better writer than me.

Yeah, I wrote that.  But I was young and kind of stupid and neurotic and just wanted to find a way to be good at something.

Regardless, in my twenties I finally read the entirety of the diary.  And I don’t know that it made a strong impression upon me.

I know that this is likely to be taken as a statement of blasphemy and I am emotionally and mentally hanging my head in shame (I really am a bit embarrassed).

Regardless, the fact is, Anne’s diary might not have made a huge impression upon me (at the time), but her story has always resonated with me.

Twenty years ago, I learned that people with my maiden name were sent to Auschwitz, that Dr. Mengle had experimented upon two sets of twins who shared my last name with me.

Although my grandfather’s family had emigrated from Germany in the mid to late 1800’s and, thereby, my immediate family might (or likely) escaped danger, I kept on thinking about those who might not have.

Those who were locked in train cars and sent to Auschwitz where the Angel of Death pointed them in the direction of the showers and eventually into the horrors of his “hospital.”

I think about Anna, a thirteen year-old girl, wanting to stretch the limits of her life and find her way back into the ice cream shops of her youth and spend time with her friends and not have it considered an act of treason or sedition.

I think about Anne as she tries to understand the nuances of her personality and remember, once more, that she died weeks before the camp was liberated.

It still haunts me that no one really knows what happened to Peter, that he just disappeared.

As I was looking for something to write about today, I thought about the famous quote from Anne’s diary, that “in spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart.”

What courage must it have taken for her to write that.  She was only three, four flights from the ground floor.  She would have heard the sounds of the jackboots marching the streets.  She might have still been witness to round-ups of other Jewish individuals.

She, herself, was betrayed.

And yet she believed in the inherent goodness of humanity.

Today, at one point, I was reading a letter of recommendation a teacher wrote for a student, and I could see how hard she was pleading this young man’s case so that I wouldn’t just see him as a number, I would see him as a person.

She appealed to my sense of goodness, my sense of compassion.

And what should have been a one minute task took me ten.  Because I stopped and read her recommendation and accompanying letter once.


And sat at my desk, humbled, with the open folder and the lists of numbers and qualifications and lovely remarks about a young man whom I might not ever meet.

But I wish I could meet his teacher.  She saw the goodness within him.  She saw the greatness that was there and just needed a little more nurturing.

I keep on going back to Anne.  I keep on going back to a tiny attic that had minimal lighting and maximal insecurity.

I keep on thinking of a young teenage girl wanting to try on the world and see how it fit and see how she could make it fit.

And she eventually died from…typhus (as I recall).  I always picture her out in an open field, on the other side of the barbed wire from a friend of hers from Amsterdam.






And then, I reconcile this image of her against the quote I keep on thinking about…how goodness is inherent within everyone.  And I realize that my image just doesn’t matter.

My insecurities about what I know and don’t know just don’t matter.

I might not be able to teach my students about everything..

But, like the teacher whose recommendation I read today, I can do my best to work for my students.

Yes, I wrote for.

This doesn’t mean that I’m giving up on my sense of authority and becoming subordinate to my students.  But I keep on remembering how that teacher wrote for her student, how she described his efforts and his desire to achieve and his desire to show that he had learned.

And she stood up for him and spoke on his behalf. She saw his goodness and she allowed the goodness within her to speak.

She was vulnerable.  I could read it everywhere, in every graceful arch of her handwriting.  In the aching tone of her voice.

People are good.  Deep down, I really do agree with Anne Frank.  People are good.  It’s harder to find it sometimes.  It’s harder to see it and accept it sometimes.

But, in the end, I still see that it’s there.  And I will choose to nurture that goodness as opposed to cursing the evil.

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