I don’t remember how old I was when I read the short book, “Night.” I may have been 13, but I do remember being inordinately moved by the haunting passages, by the sheer pain in Mr. Wiesel’s words and by the notion that you can present the entire world in a sentence, if it is precisely the right sentence.
I’m not sure how old I was, but I know “Night” sent me on a summer-long exploration of books about the Holocaust, and some of Wiesel’s 56 other books, which led me to Isaac Bashevis Singer (maybe my favorite storyteller, ever), which lead me to a whole world of writing I hadn’t known existed.
Years later, I got to interview Mr. Wiesel for my newspaper. I don’t remember why and I don’t remember the story and I”m afraid to look it up for fear it stunk. I know my voice quavered as I asked my mundane questions (it was what we used to call a phoner, over the phone) and when I hung up, I put my head on my desk because you don’t talk to a legend without marking it in some way.
After the story-not-worth-remembering ran, Mr. Wiesel, who was teaching in Boston at the time, sent me a short thank you note. In fact, that’s what the note said:
“Simply: Thank you.”
Reader, I framed the thing. It’s hanging in my office at work and if it’s even remotely appropriate, I always direct visitors to it. I don’t pretend we were close, but I have a piece of paper that great man touched. The ink (I believe he wrote the note with a fountain pen) is fading, but I will hang onto the little framed note until the day I die, and if it’s possible, I will take it with me.
By now I’m sure you’ve read or heard that Elie Wiesel died over the weekend. He was 87. I happen to think he will live forever, as he should.