Miep is dead.
The news flashed through the social interwires, and I heard about it even before I got my NYTimes e-copy. Interestingly, the news has NOT been all about it. Yet.
Miep Gies was, is, always shall be “Miep” to anyone who read The Diary of Anne Frank. It was Miep who came to the hideout with supplies, Miep’s name who even in the hazy recall of the details of that book is clearly the embodiment of connection to the outside, and of human kindness.
It is because of people like Miep that a young girl can hear Anne say that in the end, despite everything that has happened, she still believes humans are essentially kind. And not just believe it because that’s the way her young glass nearly full heart leans, but because Miep existed.
Young girls grow up, of course, and work with crotchety editors in newsrooms where the maxim is “If his mother says she loved him, get corroboration.” They learn lovely things like cruelty to animals in childhood is a strong marker for an abusive adult. That “me first” can be a common behavior, and not an exception.
But still, Miep and the belief that humans are essentially good runs like a platinum thread, unbreakable, if sometimes bent or obscured.
Perfume out of this? Sure. You see, Miep had become so thoroughly ingrained as “history” that she had already moved beyond real person co-habiting the planet. You know that “Hey, weren’t they dead already?” feeling one has at the death of some long-lived celebrities whose myth has already grown beyond their immediate presence? At 100 years old, having lived beyond many veterans of WWII, having been at the forefront of our consciousness in an era when pen and ink letters physically travelled across land and sea, when girls wrote their intimate thoughts in a diary and not a blog, when news travelling across the wire was not a saying but a big deal, and having NOT played the media spotlight, Miep had already faded from immediate reality. If that’s ever where she was for anyone other than the Franks, the Van Daans, and family and friends.
But Miep’s essence, her character, her function in the human drama, never left the conscious of those who encountered it.
These vintage beauties I occasionally try to hunt down? The ones which were lost before I even knew they had been here? They are characters, archetypes even (Coty Chypre, anyone?) which have become a permanent part of the firmament. Part of the tale, the myth, that allows us to wrap our head around a general understanding.
Some of the historical archetypes might actually still be literally extant. And some modern incarnations of them may have yet to be identified as such.
I miss Miep. I am perhaps more saddened by the realization that she was still with us, able to receive thoughts and letters, than I am by her actual death, which at age 100 indicates a wonderfully long life arc that should be more celebrated than mourned.
But I am grateful that Anne wrote her diary, that someone saw fit to publish it, that despite any recent controversy over what may or may not have been edited and/or exised, young readers were able to enter the brutality of the Holocaust, of humans being incomprehensible, through Anne’s eyes. Because some things need to be made very small in order to realize just how enormous they are.
Miep Gies. One person. Huge concept.