One of the best and hardest units to teach in Eighth Grade Communication Arts was on the Holocaust. The complexity of our history and humanity astonished, sickened, and captivated the fourteen year-olds. For the first time in their school career, we would read a text without a fairy-tale ending. Even after a month of working on research papers and reading articles, the end of Anne Frank always stung. Something about the story. Something about the reality that she was their age. Something about the unfolding of a young woman and the love story tasted sweet.
We would get to the end. And in every class, at least one student would ask, But what happens to Anne and Peter? Never mind the context. Never mind the research. Something about the reality of this happening to someone just like them made the sweet-and-sour taste of tragedy confused their palettes. Inevitably, I would repeat multiple times that day, “Anne and Peter both died in concentration camps. This story…this class… is how they live on.”
There was something about Anne’s life and story that transformed the number six million into a small enough dose of tragedy that the eighth graders could taste it. Could digest it. Could begin to fathom the unfathomable. Could share in and pass along someone else’s sacred story.
Today I seek ways to fathom the unfathomable of the Philippines. NPR reported projections of 10,000 people dead and nine million displaced.
My non-linear, non-mathematic brain tries to compute this figure of devastation half-a-world away. I can’t seem to make sense of it. But I know that in the midst of it, there is an Anne and a Peter. I know they struggled and continue to struggle. And I know that I will listen for their stories.