Some talk to the living and get their wisdom. I talk with the dead and imagine what wisdom they would impart to me. What follows is a conversation I had in October 1999, with my parents and grandparents, Zichronam Livracha, of Blessed Memory, on the subject of God and prayer.
My mother, Rose LeBrint Fuchs, died in January 1991. My father, Leonard Israel Fuchs, died in March 1997. Besides my mother and father, the others in this conversation are:
Henry Fuchs – my grandfather. My father’s father. Henry was a wise and gentle man, who had a strong faith in God. Henry was married to Anne Fuchs (my father’s mother) for close to 50 years. When Anne died, he made a second marriage to Bea Winston. Bea and Henry were married almost 20 years, until they died in the same year when Henry was 99. When Henry was 83, he was interviewed by his step-grandson and here is what he said about God,
“My idea of God? An almighty creator who regulates and controls the growth of everything including plants, including woods and forests, man and animals. I don’t think anything, even a cigarette, could become a cigarette without the aid of God.
“Can people communicate with God? I don’t see how they can. When they pray, they’re talking to God, but whether He’s listening, that’s something else. If I pray, and I wake up in the morning, in the morning there is another prayer where you thank the Lord for all of life. That’s my idea of what prayer is. Every day that you live you thank, whether you do it consciously or unconsciously, the good Lord for the gift of another day.”
Anne Fuchs – my grandmother. My father’s mother. Anne had a heart condition that limited severely her ability to function. Preparing a Shabbat meal for our family tired her out. My sisters and I, her three granddaughters, had to be very quiet and good when we were around her. When I was 10, Anne had a stroke that paralyzed her right side. She walked with a brace and she could not speak except in jumbled up words. Because of her health problems and to my great regret, I hardly knew her.
Henry and Anne had only one child, my father Leonard.
Bea Winston Fuchs – my step-grandmother. Bea was grandmother to me for almost 20 years. I spent a lot of time with Henry and Bea. She was loving and warm and funny, and a wonderful grandmother to me.
Anna LeBrint – my grandmother. My mother’s mother. Anna had five children, several of them sickly. She felt that having children was a burden. She was a business woman, buying and selling apartment buildings. She was a woman meant to have a career rather than a family.
Abe LeBrint – my grandfather. My mother’s father. Abe and Anna were not well matched. She was aggressive; he was gentle. Though they both emigrated from Russia in their early twenties, she held onto her immigrant ways while he embraced being an American. She had not much use for religion. He was attracted to Christianity.
Betsy: Hello everyone.
All: Where have you been?
Betsy: I had no questions so I thought there was no conversation.
Henry: I hope you find God through His works. How funny for me to think that you are looking for God. He is in everything, as I said to Harvey (Bea’s son-in-law) and it is our duty to give thanks to Him.
Anne: I felt that God deserted me when I got the stroke. For me, dying was being reborn. That seems awful to say, but I have speech and mobility again (whatever mobility is without a body).
Abe: I never knew God. Life was too unhappy except when I was with dear Rose and her family. I’m sorry Anna but it was true. You all know I liked the Christian God better, to make a joke he was “a kinder, gentler” God.
Len: I was cynical by nature and then the Holocaust came.
Betsy: That would describe me. I am questioning by nature and I was raised with Holocaust stories. Grandpa Fuchs, how did you deal with knowing the horrors?
Henry: I feel that God does not do for us; rather He is the goodness that is all around us. So in our prayers we thank Him. The killing of one people by another – I know that is what you are asking – what do I think about God letting the killing happen? If we humans do bad things to each other, that is not God that is man. Betsy, man needs God, needs to be thankful, needs to learn from the Bible and from his fellow man how to be good and do good. In my life no matter what people did to me, I was nice back to them. It doesn’t pay to be mean back. But I know you are thinking: what if someone did something awful to Anne, or Bea, or Len, or Rose or to you dear sweet girls (my sisters and me)? Would I be nice back to him? Would I pray to God to help me? Would I give thanks to God still?
Naturally, I would do what I needed to do in order to protect my loved ones. Again it is between man and man. God doesn’t get involved.
All: Silence for a while. Everyone seems to be thinking about Henry’s words.
Bea: Well, I needed prayer when I got sick and was ready to die. Not the thankful prayers you are talking about Henry. I prayed to the Jewish God and also I prayed to Jesus for release from my body. Betsy was shocked when I told her I prayed to Jesus and she asked me why. I said “You never know, praying to Jesus just might help.”
Anne: How lucky you were, Bea and Henry, to have fully functioning bodies. Perhaps it would have been comforting dear Henry if we had prayed to God for help, like the Psalmists did. After my stroke, I could have prayed with the jumbled words that were most times in my mind. I want to believe, like Betsy, that God understands jumble.
Rose: Oh for God’s sake, you just do and be. You get up in the morning and live. You keep going. All this God talk is ridiculous. Read a good wise novel instead. I’m sorry sweet Bet; I don’t get it, your search. But the prayers you write and share with others, they’re nice. A bit simple for my taste, but they have some good phrases. Oh how could I say that – your writing is good, sweet, wonderful, the right words evade me.
Betsy: Grandma LeBrint is there anything you want to say before I go?
Anna: I lived. I didn’t have time to pray. But often when family matters aggravated me I prayed “Oh God, why did you give me Tzoris (Yiddish word for trouble and aggravation).” But of course God didn’t respond; God doesn’t answer questions like that. So now I think life is difficult and perhaps God provides for moments, seconds of good will, of peace, what you sometimes call “Grace,” Betsy.
Betsy: Thank you all. This conversation was and is a moment of Grace.