The Letter from Death
Illustrations by David J. Moats
Forward by Howard Zinn
(Three Arts Press, 2010)
I’ve read your letter. Thank you for taking time to write us humans.
Given what’s going on in the world, the timing is perfect. Although, given the history of our civilization, the timing has always been perfect.
I confess to some annoyance at the angry, albeit eloquent, tone of your jeremiad. In addressing all of humanity, you begin: “You can’t imagine the ironies I find in your hatred of me—your hatred of me as the ‘enemy of life’ (which may be the only idea you have ever united around). Am I the enemy of life? No. I am passive. You are the enemy of life!” By the end of your missive, however, you succeed not only at explaining why you are so upset at being blamed for our misfortunes, but also your polarized view of humanity, having observed us (and evolved along with us) for millennia. You cram a lot of research into your letter—from biblical scholarship to contemporary military doctrine to war psychology. At places, your conclusions could be deemed reductive or preachy, were the text not written by the ultimate authority: you, Death. You employ your strong, often witty soapbox voice to punch right at the moral nerve endings, especially in questions such as, “By what maniacal reckoning must more and ever more youths die so none will have ‘died in vain’?” or: “Wouldn’t it be more sane to realistically address the vulnerability you share on this earth than to devise more ways to kill and maim each other?”
Not only are you an ardent pacifist, but also a keen psychologist and philosopher. I was especially fascinated by your take on humans’ compulsion to concoct versions of afterlife and hell; your scathing critique of answers to the questions inspired by this imagined Hell; and your offering of alternative answers were we to agree with you that Hell is a place on Earth, varied and ever evolving, created by no monster, god, Grim Reaper or Angel of Death, but by us, humans. Such a concept of Hell didn’t take me by surprise. But your meditation on the growing militarism, our inherent vulnerability and mortality was enlightening and sobering. You didn’t let anyone off the hook: not the complacent, not even the conscientious.
Your hope for us lies, somewhat Freudishly, in childhood. You imply that everything will work itself out if we love and hold our babies. Simplistic or insightful? Regardless, I won’t be dying of excitement.
P.S. I really enjoyed the illustrations that accompany your letter.
I hope you didn’t make the artist sell his soul to the Devil. I kid, I kid.
KSENIYA MELNIK is a writer and a student in the graduate writing program at NYU.