Wednesday, June 16, 2004

City of Angels

No one ever warned me that a central part of mourning is the mundane task of making endless arrangements. Ariel's unveiling takes place this coming Friday, and we have family and friends flying into Los Angeles. They must all have places to sleep, and they must all be fed. We are Jews and so cucumber sandwiches and Martinis will not suffice. The Jewish people require heaps and heaps of politically incorrect food in this land of sculpted bodies. And so, Karen has been on the phone with a caterer arranging for Shabbos meals, and asking friends from shul to lend a bedroom for our out-of-town visitors. On Sunday, we will also be presenting the first Ariel Avrech Yahrtzeit Lecture. For this, Karen and I and the girls composed tributes to Ariel. Lila designed a beautiful cover using photos of Ariel and then created a lovely collage in Photoshop. A close friend, also a grieving mother and an accomplished graphic artist, polished Lila's work. Years ago, this same woman did the graphics for Ariel's Bar Mitzvah. Karen and I went to Kinkos to have the program printed and that's when our arrangements, so finely tuned, started to go awry. Our order was lost. Finally, when it was located, the print used was too small, the font all but invisible. Once again, the order was lost.
"We don't lose orders," barked a huge Kinko's employee, "we just displace 'em."
"You mean misplace?"
"Whatever, man."
We have paid countless visits to Kinkos in the past three days. They all end in the same way for me: a huge migraine. Finally, late last night, I appealed to a young woman with a startling Kinkos name-tag, ie: Jewish.
"Look, my son died. My wife and I are having a memorial in his memory. I need to get this right. Can you help me?"
I know that this is unfair, appealing so nakedly, using Ariel's death as an emotional hammer. Call me crass, call me vulgar, but I saw no other way.
The young woman, Ilana, looked at the program and asked how Ariel died.
"Cancer," I said for the sake of simplicity.
"My best friend died of a brain tumor a year ago," she said, voice cracking. "Let me handle it." And she did.

Last night, I was invited to present the Ariel Avrech Scholarship at Yeshiva Gedolah, his high school. His friends, Ari Miller, Avi Stewart and Avrami Gross founded and raised the funds for the scholarship.
Ari told me that, "I approached every guy from our class for a donation and every single one of them agreed. Not one turned us down. As soon as they heard that it was for Ariel, they chipped in. Even two boys who were asked to leave the Yeshiva in our sophomore year wrote checks. We have enough money for the next four years."
"I didn't know that boys were asked to leave," I said. "Ariel never told me."
"No," said Ari, "Ariel wouldn't talk about something like that."
I sat in the graduation and gazed at the wonderful boys and their proud, beaming families. I remembered Ariel's graduation. At the time, he was healthy. He had recovered from two bouts of cancer, massive doses of chemotherapy and radiation. And though he spent a majority of his high school career in the hospital, Ariel was still the valedictorian. It was not awarded out of pity. Ariel worked hard, never made excuses, never said that he couldn't keep up. Ariel endured, and he did his schoolwork with a sense of purpose that I have never witnessed in anyone.
As I made the presentation, I had to choke back a sob.
I said, "You who have attended Yeshiva Gedolah are lucky people. You have made friendships that will flourish for the rest of your lives. This memorial is proof of it. I want you all to look around and realize that this momemt is sacred and should never be forgotten."
My speech was halting. It is hard to speak your heart when it is broken. As Ari and I walked back to our cars, I struggled to express my appreciation for all that he and the other boys had done.
Ari said, "Mr. Avrech, we all miss Ariel too, you know."
And I realized at that moment that I was not the only one grappling with a proper way to remember Ariel. I was not the only one who missed him so ferociously that it is a permanent ache in the pit of your gut. There on the street, in Los Angeles, this City of Angels, among street traffic of hasidim and hipsters, I hugged Ari the way I used to hug Ariel. I went home and told Karen about the ceremony. And when we went to bed and her tears hit my chest as they do most every night, for one brief moment I was able to break away from my fury, let go of the dread. I was able to lean on my wife. I was able to be comforted by the kindness of Ariel's friends. For the first time in a long time, I was able to break away from the pain of burying the one I love and -- accept the love of those who are still alive. The living and the dead: my duty is to both of them.


Blogger LukeFord said...

I want to help. I could fit three of your relatives, if they are skinny, into my hovel and two can stay in my van.

June 16, 2004 at 2:58 PM  
Blogger Judith said...

Unfortunately, that sounds like typical Kinkos behavior. They are okay if you just want to run off a few self-serve copies, but every city in which I have given Kinkos a complicated job to do they have screwed up. Don't be ashamed of pulling strings to get the job done.

June 16, 2004 at 4:37 PM  
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June 16, 2004 at 7:54 PM  
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