Letter to Adelaide

This piece was selected as a winning entry in the YLD’s 2021 Writing Competition.

By Cara N. Ludwig

Dear Daughter,

Today is your first birthday! In some ways, it was typical: a colorful cake and a few gifts you opened and then happily ignored while you played with the boxes. In other ways, it was not at all typical. There was no big gathering to share in your joy. No baptism at church. No trip to the park to celebrate with friends.

It was just us, at home, loving you within the confines of these four walls. As we have done day after day after day.

Your nursery is decorated with globes and maps and signs reminding you that “adventure is waiting for you, little one.” From the moment you were born, I have anticipated traveling the world with you, seeing each new experience through your precious eyes.

I imagine you gazing in wonder at the glistening skyscrapers in Chengdu, China, where your father dedicated years of his life to serving others as a missionary. I picture your tiny hands, stained with volcanic clay as we work alongside our Guatemalan friends, building another medical clinic in the hills of Jalapa. And I can hear your laughter floating on the breeze as you splash into a cold mountain lake in western Uganda, where I once lived and where your father proposed to me.

Wonder. Community. Laughter.

All around the world, parents share these dreams for their children. But this past year, all around the world, those dreams dwarfed in the face of a shattering pandemic. As COVID-19 grew from a whisper to a warning to a roar, I increasingly found myself planted in front of the TV, scouring the headlines for some glimmer of encouragement that the pandemic was almost over. The news offered little consistent hope.

So, we settled into a sort of COVID routine, growing accustomed to masks and sanitizer and six-foot spaces. But just as the toilet paper raids began to subside, the images in the news grew far more dire.

Unexplained killing. Dangerous riots. Men and women in military uniforms standing guard to protect us . . . from ourselves. As images of violence flashed across our screen, I just stared at you, your chubby face silhouetted against the television glow.

What kind of world am I bringing you into? I wondered.

You toddled over and reached up, wanting to be held. Inside, I wished someone could hold me, too. This all felt like too much. How could I ever explain this to you, when I barely understood it myself? The world I thought I knew, the country I loved, and the people I cared for were hurting.

I began to wonder what role I might have had in perpetuating the pain. What opportunities I might have had to bring healing, but overlooked. It was tempting to be overwhelmed by the questions, to quarantine myself from reality, as I had from COVID-19. But as I looked at you, I realized I could not ignore the questions. In fact, I must do the opposite.

So, my child, these are my vows to you. I vow to work through these hard questions with you as you grow older, even though I don’t have all of the answers. I vow to remind you that society is not divided into “us” and “them,” because we are all human. We must admire our differences, embrace them, and acknowledge that they make us all the more beautiful. And I vow to teach you to admit when you are wrong — by admitting it myself.

As I sit here, reflecting on the past year and admiring your sweet innocence, you turn toward me with a gummy grin, beautifully unaware of the hard questions circling in my mind. Just then, my eye catches the colorful globe on our bookshelf. Suddenly, it seems so simple. Whether we are stuck in our living room or exploring another hemisphere, I would give you the same advice anywhere.

Seek wonder. Embrace community. Laugh.

And somehow, everything will be all right.