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Letter to God

April 27, 2020 by

letter

There was always a book in my family’s collection that I gravitated to when I was small. The cover design was a drawing much like one I might have created: a house, trees, a river, and in the sky clouds and angels with hovering halos, wings and outstretched arms. The title Children’s Letters to God was written with a black crayon in the style of first-graders, a blend of upper- and lowercase letters. Googling the book now and seeing the familiar image makes me smile, looking back through the filter of years.

Anyone who knows the book knows what’s inside: real letters from real children, collected by Eric Marshall and Stuart Hample, and illustrated in the way of a six-year-old by Yanni Posnakoff. There are newer editions, but this first one stands alone.

My fascination with this little book included, I now think, a sense of envy at the familiarity that allowed a child to write a letter to God. The God of my home, my parents’ God and the one I certainly believed in, was not someone to address by mail. My father and mother, atheist Jewish converts to Christianity, revered their God so profoundly that their prayers were rarely spoken aloud. I never doubted His reality, but my childhood faith did not include Him as one for casual conversation. So letters from children all over the country, asking for things, discussing life’s little problems, or just wishing God a good day, were for me a glimpse into a faith where God was a friend and companion, not just a celestial being.

Today, occupied as I am by all things coronavirus, I thought about that little book again. I wanted to write a letter to God, to talk to him about the heartbreaking death stories that pummel my senses each day, the men and women from my beautiful and diverse state who are gone before I had a chance to know them. I know the likelihood of ever having met them was nil, but still. When I read their stories in the beautifully rendered section of the New York Times entitled Those We’ve Lost, I am shattered.

Nonagenarians, Holocaust survivors (the cruelest irony); educators, dancers and musicians; servicemen and women, activists and authors – people who should have died surrounded by family and fans, birthed into the next life in a blaze of glory, died alone, victims of lonely and desperate death. The “Lost” pages deliver noble and profound tribute, obituaries befitting heads of state and heroes. Each one makes me sadder, but I refuse to become inured. 

So I write my letter.

Dear God,
It’s heartbreaking down here, too many of your children are leaving us. I tell myself they are in a better place, but look at what we’ve lost! Such kindness and generosity, so much beauty and talent. Has William Helmreich talked to you about walking every block in the five boroughs? He left two books for us, I’m reading one. He was one of your chosen. How about Dez-Ann Romain, only 36, and a beloved principal? Have you given her some kids to teach? Kious Kelly, the first nurse to succumb, those incredible heroes who are doing your work for your children. Romi Cohn, another one of yours, who saved Jewish families in Czechoslovakia in 1944. He should get a tree in Yad Vashem one day; will you make that happen? And Ferdi, the subway care inspector in Manhattan, who made sure the trains my kids rode were safe. Rabbi Yaakov Perlow who led the Novominsker Hasidic group was another one of yours. Is there a vine for him to sit under and read Tanakh? And not only New Yorkers, God; how about Luis Sepúlveda, the Chilean writer and activist under Pinochet? See that he meets Victor Jara. April Dunn, a fighter for disability rights from Louisiana; we need her here! It’s too much, God, too many beautiful people taken from your poor, staggering earth. You have brought us to our knees, all of us. It hurts, God.
Forgive my chutzpah – I don’t need to tell You who You have up there. But we are so much poorer for this loss. I still love you, I still believe in you . . . but this, God? Must we?

Many years ago, Barbara Kingsolver wrote words that I’ve thought of often in these weeks. “If I can't yet mourn a million people who left this world in a single day, I'll start with one, and move from there.” “Those We’ve Lost” has put faces and stories to numbing statistics, it’s enabled me to mourn people, rather than be overwhelmed by the numbers. I’m reminded again of how beautiful God’s children are, how sad things can get, and that God can be reached via letter, and prayer.

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About the author

Carmen Hinkey

Carmen Hinkey

Carmen Hinkey and her husband Stephen live at the Mount Community in New York State.

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