Tuesday, May 25, 2004

The Heart Nailed

When Ariel died, I discovered that I no longer speak the same language as everyone else. When I speak there is a feeling that no matter what I say, the other person cannot possibly understand what I mean. Every word, every thought is infused with a sense of what is not. "Good morning, how're you doing?" Says the nice young girl (with far too many tattoos) in Starbucks. I answer, "Hi, fine, how are you?" But what I mean is: My son is dead. How is that you are still serving coffee? As a matter of fact, how is it the earth has not fallen off its axis? Consider the thick slabs of bullet-proof glass to protect bank tellers. That's how Karen and I live, encased in such a cube. We can see the world, but we can't touch it. We can hear, but everything is muffled. Forever we will remain separate. The only people who speak our language are other parents with dead children. Karen and I recently met the parents of a girl who was murdered by Arab terrorists in Jerusalem. We sat togther at a Sheva B'rachos. Our eyes met and there was a moment of recognition so deep, so thorough that I literally felt dizzy. We did not make small talk; immediately we spoke of loss, of how much we missed our children. To be the parent of a child who has died is to be dropped into an alien landscape; it is a world so foreign that the English language does not even have a word to describe it. Think about it: when your spouse dies you are a widow; parents die and you become an orphan; if your marriage collapes you graduate to a divorcee. But lose a child and you become... unnameable. It is a territory so horrible that language collapses, imagination fails. Interesting to note that Hebrew, a language with far fewer words than English, gives the gift of such a word: shikulim. Is it any wonder that when Karen and I meet someone who has heard about Ariel they hesitate for a moment, then awkwardly say something like: "I ah, heard about your... loss..." Their voices trail off. So many people are afraid to say his name. "Do you have other children?" others ask hopefully, stupidly, as if one child can be replaced by another like interchangable Legos. There are the "friends" who are too scared or too self-absorbed to say anything. I was with a large powerful talent agency for over twelve years. After Ariel died there was not one phone call from them, not one word of consolation, as if their narcisistic silence somehow erased his very existence, thus freeing these people of any moral responsibility. Ponder the blood relatives who in a frenzy told us that "things are crazy" in their lives and so they can't possibly pay a shiva call. And then there are the generous, fine people who flew clear across the country because they could not stay away; they sat by our side and held us and said: "There are no words." And we were so grateful for those are the right wordas. The only words. Ariel's death made clear who friends are and aren't. Nothing in life clarifies individual values as visiting the sick and then the rituals of death. Finally, and perhaps most moving are strangers who have touched me with their e-mails, nailed my heart with their kindness and understanding: the book editor in Seattle, the young Christian woman in England, the radio executive in Texas, the blogging high school student and her single mother in Silver Lake; all feeling a connection with Ariel and expressing the inexpressible, courageously trying to make themselves speak my languege because instinctively they know that what once was understood is no longer comprehensible. How I love and cherish these people who are old fashioned enough to to be acquainted with the habits of mourning, like knowing embroidery or the waltz. In Ariels death I glimpse the world he might have had in the unexpected goodness that comes my way in honor of his soul. Tonight begins the holiday of Shavuos, so there will be no posts until probably after the weekend. Thank you all for making the first week of my blog so rewarding. May God bless you and keep you, may He shine his countenance upon you and bring you peace.


Blogger LukeFord said...

People don't know how to respond to such grief. I know someone in shul who lost his mother a month ago. I haven't said anything to him because I am not that close to him and anything I could say would be trite. I never met his mother and I have no idea of his relationship with her. Such tragedies as you describe frighten people. I know when I was confined to bed for six years by CFS, many people didn't want to have anything to do with me. My illness frightened them. One thing I learned -- people older than me tended to have more compassion than people my age or younger.
I am not disagreeing with you. It's just that people are good at different things. The person who is gifted in knowing how to respond to someone who's suffered a gigantic loss may not be skilled in another important aspect of human relations. A person may be an otherwise observant and fine Torah Jew and yet frightened of dealing with sick or dying people, the homeless, those with AIDS, the newly divorced.

May 30, 2004 at 11:56 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Encounters like this often leave people feeling guilty because it's a sacred pain and it's not their pain. And they feel inadequate in front of it, and defensive. It underscores the distance between people-- you suddenly know exactly how close you are to the other people you know or "know" or thought you knew. But isn't it worst when people say something anyway, who really shouldn't? Because they feel they must say something and there's nothing to be said, and it's the insincerity of it, the show, that makes it hurt even more.

June 10, 2004 at 7:36 AM  

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