I promise, I am not writing on this blog anymore but my sweet mother just called me and she was crying. She doesn’t often cry. She wanted me to write something for her. She wanted me to use my blog to pay homage to someone that has been a part of her life for almost 20 years that she lost today. And I simply cannot refuse my mother, especially when there are tears involved.
My mother is lovingly known to me and others as Big Sara (in reference to her big hair, big personality and tiny stature). She has taught eighth grade English since God was a boy. She might have taught Him grammar, I don’t know. She is animated, and dramatic, and tough and brilliant. She is, without question, one of the very best teachers I ever had. She is truly passionate about what she teaches.
For those of you she taught, or anyone else that feels so inspired… once you read this… you might send her a note – firstname.lastname@example.org. It will mean the world to her to hear from you.
For as long as I can remember, my mother has taught “The Diary of Anne Frank” and the book “Anne Frank: Remembered.” She is passionate about teaching about the horrors of the holocaust, the hope of that little girl and the extraordinary courage of Miep Gies to hide the Franks in Amsterdam.
When I returned home from my post high school graduation trip through Europe, the only thing my mother really wanted to hear about was the Anne Frank annex in Amsterdam. Then later I went to Poland and spent two days at Auschwitz. It took me 4 days to tell her everything I saw and experienced. She was riveted.
Over the years, I think my mom has grown to consider Miep Gies to be a friend. So yesterday, when at 100 years old, Miep Gies died. My mother lost a friend and she is mourning that loss right now. It might seem a bit strange to anyone that doesn’t love literature the way my family does. But my mom has studied her life, studied her work, watched every interview ever made of her and holds her in high esteem. So for my mother, the loss is palable.
Miep Gies was 100 years old. My mother said “you see, she must have been a good person, she lived so long.”
She is the last survivor of the Anne Frank legacy. She safeguarded their lives the best she could and then saved and cherished Anne Frank’s Diary. Without her courage the world would never have known that coming of age, even in fear and hiding and terror, is still coming of age. Without Gies, we would never have the words of a young girl facing death to remind us that “Despite everything, I believe that people really are good at heart.”
Gies has never considered herself a hero, never considered the risks she took to hide the Franks… when asked about why she agreed to help… she simply said
“I could foresee many sleepless nights and an unhappy life if I refused. And that was not the kind of failure I wanted for myself. Permanent remorse about failing to do your human duty, in my opinion, can be worse than losing your life.”
So tonight, half a world away, a Baptist Girl from Louisiana is morning the loss of a 100 year hero from Vienna. Mourning the loss of someone that had grown to be her hero and maybe even a friend, at the very least a trusted companion. The type of friendship that can only be born from reading and reading stories year after year and inspiring students to do their very best through the words of real people that have been through extraordinary circumstances.
So I write this eulogy of “My Mother’s Miep” because she asked me to. And hopefully to help her understand why she grieves. She grieves that the story has finally ended. She grieves that one of the very last pure good souls is gone. She grieves that her hero is human.
And though Miep wasn’t Jewish, I somehow feel the mourner’s Kaddish is an appropriate way to commemorate her life.
May His great Name grow exalted and sanctified in the world that He created as He willed
May He give reign to His kingship in your lifetimes and in your days,and in the lifetimes of the entire Family of Israel, swiftly and soon.
May His great Name be blessed forever and ever.
Blessed, praised, glorified, exalted, extolled,
mighty, upraised, and lauded be the Name of the Holy One
Blessed is He. beyond any blessing and song, praise and consolation that are uttered in the world. Now say:
May there be abundant peace from Heaven and life upon us and upon all Israel.
He Who makes peace in His heights, may He make peace, upon us and upon all Israel.
~~I write this for my mother, who taught me to love the great characters of literature, especially, the real ones~~