Miep Gies, one of the people who helped Anne Frank and her family survive as long as they did, passed away today at 100 years old. It’s also Wendy’s would-be 32nd birthday today. A sad day all around, since Wendy’s not here to celebrate and I wish so badly that she were.Melancholy days get me to thinking, and here’s what occurred to me.
When I was in 10th grade (about a million years ago), I starred as Anne’s sister Margot, in The Diary Of Anne Frank with the Delhi Community Players, an expat theatre group that would put on two productions a year. It was very unusual for a high-schooler to get a part in the Community Players shows, since the plays were usually geared towards adult expats and so it was a huge honour when they cast me.
Being in The Diary of Anne Frank was a singularly amazing experience: We worked on a very small stage, very long hours and the experience was incredibly intense given the subject matter and beauty of Anne’s words. I’d always loved Anne Frank, us both being chronic journallers and idealists, it was an ongoing connection between us and it seemed natural that I would be playing Anne’s sister. These days I’m not so much an idealist anymore, and I do wonder if Anne had survived if she would have been too, or if the reality of her experience of human cruelty would have hardened her.
The summer after the production, my family was passing through Amsterdam and we went to visit Anne’s house for the second time. Until we went inside, I hadn’t realised how much being in the show had changed my experience of Anne and her family. Upon entering, I was overcome with the history of the house, Anne’s experience, and on a personal level I felt a microcosm of the huge loss wrought by the Holocaust within the walls of Prinsengracht 267. I began to cry, then weep, and then had a series of panic attacks as we were herded through the house. The tour is set up in a way that you can’t go back once you’ve started, so I had to plug on through, getting more and more beside myself, and making all the other tourers, including my mother and sisters, mortified and embarrassed by me in the process. I’ll never forget the faces of people, disgusted at my show of emotion, and how cruelly my family looked at me for causing all the staring.
I remember being shocked that I was the only one in tears. Didn’t they know where they were? Didn’t they feel what had happened? Didn’t the weight of that violent history put such a pressure on their hearts the only response was tears?
I’ve come to think that the only humane reaction to Anne Frank’s house was coming from me. My tears, my horror, my panic, it was almost an out-of-body experience. I looked around me, at all the dry-eyed tourists, including my family, and I felt sickened that nobody really seemed to understand who Anne was, and what had happened in that house. The reality of it. The smallness of their space. Trapped, then found, then executed one by one, but survived by Miep who ultimately released Anne’s diary into the world.
Years later, after Wendy’s murder (about half a million years ago), I had a gut-wrenching nightmare, from which I awoke bathed in sweat and sobbing. In the dream I was going to a museum of human rights violations. The first “exhibit” – because it wasn’t a display, it was really real – was the home of a disappeared family in Argentina. The food steaming, one chair overturned, and nothing else. No sign of the family of desaparecidos; I knew in my heart they had been murdered. The next “exhibit” was a mass grave with real bodies, stacked one on top of the next, rotting, some shot, some tortured, raped. I could smell the blood and pain. The final “exhibit” I remember before I awoke was a torture victim, mutilated beyond recognition as even human. At this third site of horror I broke down into uncontrollable weeping, hysteria, and fell down next to the tortured person, cradling the body in my arms and howling. Everyone in the museum looked at me like I was a crazy person.
Furious at their derisive stares, I started screaming at them, “What is wrong with you!? Don’t you see what’s here? This is a real person! Not an exhibit! Can’t you feel all the pain?” And they looked at me, smirked, and laughed. I could hear their thoughts: some of them wondered if I was responsible for that dead person in my arms, why else would I be so upset.
I hadn’t made the connection between my visit to Anne’s house and that dream until today, thinking about Miep and her bravery, thinking about Wendy and how viciously she was taken from us by that gangbanging gun-toting monster. I’m also reflecting on pain and being appropriate. For me, the appropriate reaction to horror is a stream of tears, empathy, fury, a desire to do something to help if even in a small way, to comfort, to support, to punch someone, make them pay. Every day I see people walking through life the way those people did in Anne Frank’s house or that human rights museum in my dream, gazing detachedly at aspects of life as if they are exhibits to be merely viewed and not felt. My heart breaks.
I don’t understand all the cruelty in this world, and how people like Miep could find a way to do so much under the worst possible conditions. She was a redeemer. Without people like her, I think we’d all be lost in chasms of useless sadness, trudging through a life without possibilities for paying it forward.
My way of coping is to live my life out loud, even if that makes people uncomfortable. I wear my pain and my sadness and love and happiness as a bindi on my forehead. The bindi takes many shapes, sometimes it’s dancing, sometimes it’s a photograph or painting, most of the time it is words. That’s just me, that’s what I must do to not lose my mind in grieving, it is the only way I can get through each day that I’ve survived after Wendy. And Anne. And Miep. River, Heath, so many others.
So here you have it: For Miep, my sorrow, my love, my admiration, who survived and did her best, had children, lived, helped, loved for Anne and her family who never got a chance. And for Wendy you have my sorrow, my love, my adoration, she should be here today, we should be dancing, I should be able to hug her. And here you have me, my tears, this disappointment, my breaking/healing heart, welling love, and hope. Always with the hope.
And you, Dear Reader: How have you coped with loss and grief in your life? Have you ever allowed yourself to cry in public? How do you respond to other people’s public displays of emotion? It would make this sad day brighter to hear your thoughts.