Monday, June 21, 2004

Silence

The unveiling for my son Ariel took place on Friday, June eighteen. Karen and I drove with the girls to the cemetery in Simi Valley. In the back seat, the girls shared the i-Pod earphones and sang along with Avril Lavigne. Karen and I looked at one another and smiled. If it were not for the girls Karen and I would be plunged into a permanent gloom.
There were about forty-five to fifty people attending. I was amazed that so many were able to show up when you consider that it was a morning work day. But Ariel was loved by his community and people continue to do everything they can to show their feelings for Ariel.
Rabbi Muskin spoke of his loving relationship with Ariel. My father, Rabbi Avrech, spoke movingly of all the meanings of Ariel's name. Karen's father, Rabbi Singer spoke of the wrenching pain that we all feel. I have to confess that I have not paid enough attention to the pain that my parents and Karen's parents are experiencing. I realize that the serenity of their old age has been shattered by the death of this favorite grandson. But I have been too caught up in my own grief to feel their pain. Grief is a selfish thing. It refers only to itself and excludes all others. That is why it is a sin to grieve excessively. A rav I know worries that I might visit Ariel's grave too often. Do not make it a shrine, he warns me. That is why the mountain where Moshe Rabbeinu is buried remains a mystery. Yes, the older generation has lost its future. Ariel was the one who would carry on the traditions of the family. He was the chosen; everyone knew it.
Finally, I spoke:

What is the proper response to the death of a child? This has been the question that haunts us. Aside from the rituals that halacha dictates we yearn for more. As parents we want to do as much for our child who is gone as we did when Ariel was alive. Karen and I have instituted an annual lecture in Ariel's memory. We will be publishing The Book of Ariel in several months. I learn with study partners in Ariel's memory and Karen goes to Tehillim. And yet, no matter what we do, it does not seem to be enough. Perhaps it's the fear that if we don't carry out as many memorials as possible his memory will fade. And so we conceive commemorative gestures, anything that will keep his beloved spirit alive.
But perhaps the most fitting response is the most difficult of all.
Perhaps the most fitting response is silence.
Why silence? How can this be an appropriate expression of love?
In the story of the Akedah, Avraham's sacrifice of Isaac, Isaac says to Avraham: Here are the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the offering?
Avraham replies: God will see the lamb for Himself for the offering, my son.
The Torah gently narrates: The two of them walked on together.
In other words, father and son walked on in silence; perhaps the most poignant silence in all history.
Why the silence? Don't father and son want to discuss what is about to happen? Don't they want to articulate some final thoughts, perhaps a last goodbye?
In truth, there are times when words are superfluous; there are times when words become a prison, locking people into specific utterances that are far too concrete, miserably restricted in meaning and emotional depth.
The reason words are superfluous in the Akedah is because father and son love one another.
This is love that is so profound, a love that is so pure that to verbalize it would only corrupt the integrity of the feeling.
In the most subtle manner, the Torah is illustrating that under the most profound circumstances words can only convey a poverty of expression.
It is necessary to recognize that the Torah's first use of the verb to love occurs in the story of the Akedah, in God's command that Avraham offer: Your son, your only son, whom you love. When the Torah uses a word for the first time it does so with the purpose of defining that word in all its purity. Thus, the essence of true love is captured in the relationship between Avraham and Isaac. The Torah demonstrates that the ultimate expression of love transcends spoken language; in fact love finds its greatest fulfillment in silence.
We are not on this lofty spiritual level. We lack the ability, maybe even the courage to rely on silence to convey our love for Ariel. But in the absence of that faculty, the least we can do is take note of it and hope that sometime in the future this endless love we feel for Ariel will find its proper expression.

After I spoke, we recited Tehillim. I said the Kaddish. People lined up to place small stones on the headstone. Karen and I waited for everyone to leave and then we lingered at the grave. We touched the granite. We wept and embraced. On the way back to the car Karen and I halted in our tracks and went back to Ariel's grave because we felt that we did not say a proper goodbye. Again we touched the granite, again we lingered and wept. Again, for the hundreth time we said, this can't be real. How did this happen? Is this really our life? We exist within the embrace of cruel questions: Why, how, what if? Endless permuations of what could have been, what should have been. But in the end we are left with this awful reality and I wonder: how much longer can I go on without surrendering to nothingness?

4 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Please don't stay silent for long.

June 25, 2004 at 12:35 PM  
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