by Becky De Oliveira—
“Despite everything, I believe that people are really good at heart.” –Anne Frank
The Anne Frank House in Amsterdam has more than a million visitors each year. I was one of them back in 2014 when I decided to brave the two-hour-minimum line to visit with a former student of mine who now lives in The Netherlands.
“What makes this place so popular?” I wondered idly, looking around at the hordes of people
standing patiently in the cold. (I’m always surprised to find anyone wanting to do the same things I want to do. On other occasions, like my recent trip to Las Vegas, I find myself quite alone, the single customer in Bauman’s Rare Books, tucked away safely away from the madness of the Strip and looking longingly at a first edition of 1984 for $8, 200.) The evening before, I’d walked past the house at almost 9:00 p.m. and found a line of equal length even at that hour. Tickets sell out months in advance.
As I made my way through the house, up steep staircases and through unfurnished rooms
containing textual information, photographs, and other artefacts, I was conscious of the constant creaking of the floor. There was a hushed, almost reverent quality to the way the crowds moved through the house, so the noise was hardly the result of wanton trampling. We walked meekly, gingerly, trying to be quiet—much, I realized, as the Frank family must have walked during the more than two years they remained hidden in a secret room in this very building. “How that must have driven them nuts,” I thought. Especially Anne, who was an exuberant and lively girl, just in her very early teens at the time of her death. And an extraordinary girl, who was able to capture her thoughts and experiences in a wise and mature voice that is at once honest and unfailingly generous. I’m not certain at what point she wrote the words at the top of this article—obviously it was before her betrayal by a person or persons unknown, a betrayal that resulted in her incarceration and death at Bergen-Belsen—but I think it is likely that she would have penned those same words even after her arrest: “Despite everything, I believe that people are really good at heart.”
Was she right about that? Are people good at heart? I like to think so. I certainly hope they are—reliant as I so often am, as we all so often are—on the goodwill of strangers. There are days, weeks, months, years even, when the news is so bad that one can become discouraged and begin to doubt humanity. Perhaps this is OK and even natural. Perhaps we can only have faith in the good of humanity because we can have faith in the goodness of God, who created us and who has instilled something of His own nature inside each of us. We make choices as to whether we allow His goodness to influence the way we live our lives, and the good news is that a large number of us seem to make reasonable choices most of the time. We are generally kind and caring toward others, even in our fumbling, inept ways. We don’t—most of us—intend to cause harm. We line up—millions of us—just to see the house in which a young girl who was generations removed from any of us wrote a diary in which she expressed her faith in all of us.
Coming back from that Las Vegas trip last week, I went through CLEAR, a service that uses biometrics (retinas, fingerprints) instead of ID documents. I’m not thrilled about belonging to this service; I worry about privacy issues. My husband, who never worries about anything, nagged me into signing up nearly a year ago at 4:30 a.m. when I was still bleary and half-awake. As a result, I’m usually grumpy when I encounter CLEAR. It makes me think of everything I hate about the world. “Have you had a good time in Las Vegas?” a cheerful CLEAR employee asked as he urged me to move my forehead toward the screen, all the better to position my retinas.
“No,” I answered flatly. Las Vegas also reminds me of everything I hate about the world. I’d come to the airport five hours before my flight just to get away from it.
Instead of responding to my tone with equal irritation, the man flooded me with empathy. He carried my bags over to security, wished me a safe flight, hoped the rest of my day would be better. He smiled at me with genuine warmth. Later, when I got an email survey asking me to rate CLEAR, I gave it the highest rating I ever have (only a 7, but normally I give a 0). In my comments, I noted my continued concerns about privacy and the use of biometric data but praised the staff at McCarran International Airport for lifting my spirits more than I would have thought possible on that day.
That CLEAR agent reminded me of everything I love about the world. Are people good at heart? Sure.
Becky De Oliveira is a doctoral student in research methods working on special projects for the Pacific Union Conference from her home in Colorado.