I just figured out how to update from my phone, which is nice — my hours on Facebook on the ferry can be used more constructively. I like that. While I love seeing my friends’ photos (and get annoyed by ads for bras, plus sized clothing, and earrings shaped like ice cream cones — really, Facebook?), I tend to get mired down reading articles — even just headlines — and start feeling panicky and anxious.
Plus the “On This Day” memories feature can be pretty loaded sometimes, especially this time of year. But I looked today and saw that two years ago I wrote one of my favorite posts, so the inaugural “post from my phone in order to get off Facebook” is actually something that I posted on Facebook two years ago. Oh, the irony.
But it still resonates, especially in the wake of Holocaust Memorial Day, which I’ve been reading and thinking a lot about. So here it is.
January 30, 2017
When I was a kid, I would always have a book with me, and read at the table, mindlessly chomping on food while lost in whatever story I was “in.” It drove my parents insane — they would tell me to put my book down and eat, and I would “as soon as I finish this one part!” Sometimes I could get away with reading all through dinner if they were talking, but if it were just one of them and me… Not so much.
One night I was at dinner with my dad, eating at the old restaurant in Capwell’s. I was reading “Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl,” and was completely engrossed. I loved her. Here was a girl my age, but she was living in a SECRET ANNEX and hiding from the horrible Nazis. It sounded so “exotic” and unreal, and to my over-zealous yet completely ignorant and immature mind, tragically romantic. My father, who normally didn’t have much patience with my reading at the table, instead asked me to read what passage I was on to him. I winced — I knew I was in trouble for this rude habit, but this was a different admonishment than telling me to put my book away.
It happened to be the part where Anne describes using the chamber pot she kept under her bed, going quietly so as not to disturb the others or worse, call attention to their hiding place and being captured and sent to a camp. It was so abstract to me — I didn’t know what a chamber pot really even looked like, having the luxury of being able to get up and “go” whenever I wanted, in my bathroom with green and white wallpaper. I wasn’t mature or savvy enough to realize what a true horror it was — to me, it was still a story. I mean, I knew it was true,that she had been a real girl and this was a real diary, but it seemed so far away in time that it didn’t seem like it was truly possible. My main worry was that not only was I in trouble for reading at the table, but of ALL the passages I could have been reading about was about bodily functions, a giant taboo for dinner table discussion, and I could feel myself getting hot with embarrassment and shame. I finished reading and looked up at him.
He was angry, but I realized he was not angry at me. “That right there,” he said, “is why I fought in the war. So little girls like Anne Frank didn’t have to do that. But we couldn’t save them all.” He never talked about the war — to this day one of my big regrets in life is that I never asked him to tell me those stories — so I was surprised. I was old enough to piece it all together, but still young and stupid enough not to “get it.” It seemed so long ago (at the time it was only a little over 30 years) and that there was no way it could happen again. The world had learned its lesson, hadn’t it? My dad — my hero — and all the other soldiers in WWII had saved future little girls, so we could eat French Dip sandwiches in Capwell’s with our fathers, safe and sound in the suburbs, right? I was so complacent and spoiled, and even though I’m much more savvy now, I still didn’t ever truly think it could happen again. Until this past week.
I’ve been thinking about Anne Frank pretty much every day since the election. Mostly about her tree. She was trapped inside, and would look out at the branches of the tree she could see through that skylight, and it would give her comfort and beauty and inspiration. And when I’d be feeling like things were just terrible and woe is me, I’d think of that tree and feel like an asshole, that if she could believe, under her circumstances, that people were still truly good at heart, so could I. And I really did always believe that, until this past week. I think “in general” it’s still true — and seeing so many people come to the aid of strangers, especially yesterday — I know that there are many good people out there. But I now know that there really are some people that aren’t good, and they’re in charge. My dad and those soldiers didn’t really save us, after all. Maybe for a time they did, but I guess it was brewing and bigger than anyone had thought.
This administration is NOT what they fought for, lost their lives, limbs, and sanity for. This is not the America they knew. America wasn’t even all that “great” then — Roosevelt turned away refugees at first, too — but everyone came together and *that’s* what made it great. I’m hoping that will happen again — not some bullshit jingo-istic baseball cap slogan, but truly great, with good people out there fighting. I saw it yesterday, and we’re going to see it again. And I’m going to keep thinking of Anne, and her tree, and her hope. And keep thinking of my dad and that night in Capwell’s. And do what I can. How can we not?