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Dear Henry Wadsworth Longfellow,

Henry W. Longfellow*

Henry W. Longfellow*

Sir, the pain you felt after your second wife Fanny died in that horrible fire is unimaginable. You raced to her side to help squelch the flames only to lose her later, and because you were injured yourself from the fire, you couldn’t even attend her funeral. Then add to that the pain you suffered from your son’s injury in the Civil War, it must have been unbearable. The sudden loss of family—especially when their time has not come—is the kind of grief no one should have to endure.

Since your passing, we’ve seen too many wars—two of them World Wars. We’ve had enemies attack us twice on our own soil with the last one being the destruction of two towers in New York City where nearly 3000 people died in a matter of a couple hours. And most recently there is deep heartache of parents who are laying to rest their little ones who were gunned down in their classroom. It all seems senseless to me. But I don’t know why any of it should make sense.

Grief often feels like the enemy. It comes in to attack us and take us hostage, and though I didn’t bury a child last week or lose a spouse or child at war, I have been walking around with a heart full of sadness and despair, wondering how I can exist in this world that is full of darkness. I felt much like you wrote in your poem Christmas Bells:

“And in despair I bowed my head;
‘There is no peace on earth,’ I said
‘For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men

So dear Sir, I was at church today. There were no bells—we don’t have bells at my church—but I did feel something from the Christmas music and the spirit of peace and love that was there. So even though there weren’t any bells, I could hear them in my mind. It was this:

“Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
‘God is not dead; nor doth he sleep!
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men!’ “

I really don’t know how the Right will prevail and I really don’t know how the Wrong shall fail. It seems like every day the Wrong prevails more and more. These moments that overwhelm us in the media try to crowd out any sliver of joy we might seek. Lives are destroyed, families are shattered, but I do have hope that misery and grief don’t have to paralyze us.

So this little note is just a thank you for writing your poem about hope. Because without hope, despair wins and so does Wrong. I am grateful for the bells of Christmas Day to help remind me that we can have peace on earth and good-will to men. My prayer is that those who are directly impacted personally by recent tragedies will find the bells comforting as well.

Kind regards,


*The photo of Henry W. Longfellow is in the public domain. (The copyright has expired.)