Questions in February


Michael raised his hand. “I don’t understand. Why is it that every good king in Judah has a bad king come after him? Like, his father was good, was just, made the territory grow. So why does he turn bad and start killing people? It doesn’t make any sense.”

I didn’t have an answer and I told him so.

Later he was looking at the photographs at the beginning of his copy of Anne Frank’s diary. I hadn’t told them too much about the book before they started reading, but he did the math on the picture of her memorial stone. “Wait, I don’t understand.”

“Come on over, Michael. What’s confusing you?”

He sat down at the other side of my desk. “She was 16 when she died? What is this book, then?”

“It’s her diary.”

“She was a real person?”


“And she died?”


“How did she die?”

“In a concentration camp.”

“How can she die?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, how did she die in the camp?”

“You remember Corrie Ten Boom’s descriptions of the camp she was in? She talked about a lot of ways people died. I don’t remember the particulars of Anne Frank’s death, but we’ll look it up when we finish.”

“But Anne Frank was 16.”


“That’s messed up. I don’t want to read this book.”

“Why do you think we would read the diary of a young girl who died in a concentration camp?”

“I don’t know.”

“Was the concentration camp the most important thing about her? Was that what defined her as a person during her life?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, it’s easy to for us to be overwhelmed by the number of people who died, and forget that they were individuals. Anne Frank helps us to remember that each of those people had a life and a family, had a story.”

“It’s messed up.”

“I know.”

He walked back to his comfortable reading chair and I watched as he stared at nothing for a few minutes before picking the book up again and staring at the picture of the gravestone. He kept shaking his head.

It’s February, the doldrums of the school year — inattention, curriculum synthesis, and big projects unfortunately coinciding, the time when the patterns of sad things stand out the clearest in windy, rainy weather. The sensitive students ask real, unanswerable questions and I get worried when they don’t turn in their work. Next year, I’ve decided, I need to mark it on the calendar as an event — the hard part — and prepare my patience and compassion beforehand.

“I start by getting snappy, then unhappy, and finally I twist my heart round again, so that the bad is on the outside and the good is on the inside and keep on trying to find a way of becoming what I would so like to be and what I could be, if .. there weren’t any other people living in the world. “

-Anne Frank



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