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"There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you."
                                                         Maya Angelou

Every time I read that quote, I think about the concentration camp survivors we hosted during a Holocaust presentation at Rogue Community College in Grants Pass, Oregon. Most of them were quite old and they’d just begun to tell the stories they’d kept inside. I was horrified and I was mesmerized by their words, by their courage and humility. One man, over dinner at our kitchen table, said something I will never forget. When asked how his life had been changed by his years in a concentration camp where he lost his entire family, he replied. “It made me more kind.”

Stories are our conscience. They teach truth and a respect for the past. Stories are like our connective tissue, they link us to the lives of others. If we keep telling and writing them, perhaps they will keep us human. Anne Frank was a thirteen-year-old child who wrote a diary while hiding in an attic. She didn’t survive, but her words did—inspiring and haunting us for generations.

After hosting those Holocaust survivors and hearing their stories,  I needed to write something—to connect in a heartfelt way—to add my voice and speak for the ones who'd died and were not heard. I needed to imagine myself as someone who'd experienced at least something of the horror. This poem came out of that need.


THIS BRIGHTNESS

All night I stood waiting
for sun to fill the room’s small window,
the glass still black where I paused
looking out as if for a signal
and remembering how dawn
releases the trees, mountains and each
fence from its shadow.
Still holding the nightfall between my hands
I whisper, “It will come.”

The dark yields slowly and this day
might have traveled here from the other side
of the earth, an avenue in Warsaw and a house
where a man has paced since midnight
the musty stillness of his attic, thinking
each time a board creaked that soldiers
moved on the stairs and imagining
that these would be his last moments.

Words like moths kicked up
from the tall grass could
trace his story back to its ink.
He knows the meaning of all time is words--
those small, unstoppable sounds
that fold, finger by finger,
across our bodies.

He would understand morning
is a kind of reprieve, its slow coming
the affirmation of everything night
called into question, and he might believe
that light passes from country to country,
one man to another, a sharing
that becomes personal like the space
between the living and the dead--
that otherness inside us we never touch
no matter how far down our hands might reach.

Picture
Time has passed since we housed those Holocaust survivors. We now have a granddaughter, Shenoa, who is the age you were when you wrote your diary. I think of her, I think of you. I salute your courage, Anne Frank. The way you left a message, a legacy, a poignant reminder of what it means to be human. I pray Shenoa will be brave like you. That she will have the courage to speak her truth, that she will never lose faith in mankind. That she will always believe in the goodness of the human heart.  

 


Comments

07/02/2014 9:21am

Susan, I love Stories are like connective tissue--I am grateful that as writers/poets/thinkers, we can directly address those who have inspired us, no matter when they lived. I like the concept of sharing the light as it moves around the world, allowing it to touch us. Lovely poem. Thank you.

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05/05/2015 8:03pm

Excellent story written by you. Read many times by me :)

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Patricia Rickert
09/23/2015 10:11pm

Absolutely beautiful writing, you have a gift with words. Keep at it, it
inspires us all. So glad you are my friend. Pat

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11/17/2015 8:39am

Why do we read and profess different and various stories in life. There is an amply clear and crystal clear reason behind this move. The themes are lesson oriented and have great learning capacity and room. Its facts and figures are enshrined and utilized in like manner.

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01/19/2016 4:58am

Because we want to know more about other life which we didnt have./

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Barry
03/21/2016 11:12am

Unquestionably your readers will join in your prayer(s) and these three quotes resonate well with humanity’s never-ending need for courage, heroism, and reverential memory.

“That was the tragedy. Not that one man had the courage to be evil. But that millions had not the courage to be good.”
- John Fowles

“What makes a hero? Courage, strength, morality, withstanding adversity? Are these the traits that truly show and create a hero? Is the light truly the source of darkness or vice versa? Is the soul a source of hope or despair? Who are these so called heroes and where do they come from? Are their origins in obscurity or in plain sight?” – Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Notes from Underground

“Most things are forgotten over time. Even the war itself, the life-and-death struggle people went through is now like something from the distant past. We’re so caught up in our everyday lives that events of the past are no longer in orbit around our minds. There are just too many things we have to think about every day, too many new things we have to learn. But still, no matter how much time passes, no matter what takes place in the interim, there are some things we can never assign to oblivion, memories we can never rub away. They remain with us forever, like a touchstone.” – Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore

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07/04/2016 7:30pm

Long ago, people felt the need for writing stories that were deserved to be immortalized. These often tell the stories of the origins of the people and place. Also, these written stories tell the people that suffered atrocities in the past, and the places that had been burned to the ground. The people of today needs to look at the past to progress properly into the future. Stories of Anne Frank which had been immortalized are essential to guide the present people into avoiding the mistakes committed in the past.

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Because this is the only way to transfer an experience beside talking.

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