My thoughts as an English teacher on the lessons of The Holocaust, and as an American woman on the Las Vegas shooting:
I challenged my students to write about forgiveness, as it relates to their own lives, after watching a short film about a Holocaust survivor named Eva (BuzzFeed). She made peace with the doctors of Auschwitz who performed tests on her and her twin sister. We’re studying Night by Elie Wiesel.
Man, it it is not easy to teach Night or the Holocaust in general. The atrocities and sadness weigh on us as we sometimes fight back tears reading the intensely personal story. But, it makes a lasting impression. It’s one of the books I vividly remember studying in high school, whereas many fade or – let’s be honest – may not have been read in the first place.
I have a hard time teaching it in some ways because what exactly is the lesson? To make sure history doesn’t repeat the senseless horror? The stupidity? The bystanders? The problem of people who follow orders out of fear? Perhaps, the only useful thing we can take from the story is the plea to do better, to say something, to stand up to evil as we see it in our own lives. (Or in Eva’s case, the power of forgiveness.)
The problem with evil is it’s invisible. Who or what do we stand up to? Oftentimes, like recently in the horrific Las Vegas shooting, evil evades accountability with a self-inflicted rifle shot to the head. A loner, a red blip who surfaces to destroy, then submerges back into death, or anonymity, until the next time. Whatever motivated this man – did it die with him? Or is it breeding in the confused heart of another somewhere across the nation? When rationality, explanation, and sense fail, maybe it is just evil left. And how do you wrap your head around evil? I thought I didn’t believe in evil.
It defies logic, confuses, saddens, disappears. It leaves us with answerless questions. To paraphrase from Night, there is a power in a question which is lost with the answer. The power of evil and the answerless questions it leaves in its wake dumbfound us. We want to make it about guns, to take sides, to be right, to gain traction in our grappling, but we just can’t. It doesn’t get us anywhere. We’re left holding only the haunting residue of that which can’t be explained.
(Funny. I was just going to type up my response to Forgiveness, and not post about teaching on this blog for once. And now I’ve gone off on a tangent about Las Vegas. I never said this blog wouldn’t be rambling. And these thoughts are colliding this week. )
(written last Friday)
Forgiveness is perhaps the most powerful force anyone has at their disposal. True forgiveness is available to anyone. It’s free, but it takes work.