Thursday, June 03, 2004

Within a Budding Schoolyard

I was ten-years old when I fell in love with Karen. It happened in fourth grade. The students buzzed with the news that a new kid had transferred from Ohel Moshe, a yeshiva in Bensonhurst. I was playing punchball in the yard when I saw the new girl standing in the schooolyard. Karen was alone, poised by the gate. She was gazing out past the yard, past all the active, tumbling children, past the girls who were skipping rope. Karen was staring off into space in the most splendid isolation. To me she looked like the princess of a lost tribe. I was smitten. What struck me about Karen aside from her devastating beauty was the fierce intelligence that flashed in her eyes. And oh, how desperately did I want to know what this little girl was thinking about? So, in the Yeshiva of Flatbush schoolyard, I stood frozen at home plate gazing fixedly at Karen Singer, knowing deep in my heart that my life had just changed; that I would never ever be the same person. Oh, I continued to be a gawky and awkward and painfully dopey kid with a paralyzing math disability, (in those days we were just called dumb) but I was different for I carried a secret in my heart, a secret that I shared with no one.

The secret was this: some day I would marry Karen Singer.

Karen and I barely spoke in all the years we were together in elementary school. It did not take long for Karen to be recognized as not only the prettiest girl in Yeshiva, but the brightest.

Years passed. Karen and I went to separate high schools. I would see her at basketball games, sometimes in the local pizza shop. But we never spoke; she had no idea who I was. Certainly, she did not know that I was still in love with her.

During college years, every once in a while I would ask my parents if they'd heard anything about Rabbi Singer's daughter. "Oh, she's in Barnard," they would tell me. "Is she married yet?" "Not yet, but that girl won't be single long." I agreed. Some smart Columbia pre-med student was bound to win her heart.

After college, I was living on the upper west side in New York. One day in shul, the Lincoln Square Synagogue, I looked up from my siddur and my heart stopped for there she was. Karen was sitting in the women's section.

And she was not wearing a hat.
Which meant that she was not married.

The very next day I saw her on the street at a Jewish Street Festival. She was alone, standing in almost the exact same posture as when I first saw her in the school yard. I walked over and introduced myself. Baffled she looked at me; she had no idea who I was. No idea that my heart was beating in my chest like a trapped bird.

Less than a year later, we were married.

Ariel was our first born. Karen's labor was difficult and finally a c-section was performed. I was there when Ariel was born. All births are miraculous, but this more so for that little girl I had loved so deeply, so passionately was now mother to our child. I felt blessed by Hashem and I was appropriately grateful.

Twenty-two years later Karen and I were with Ariel when his soul departed his body. As Ariel died, as our son became pure spirit, Karen and I clung to one another and I stood in the schoolyard and watched the new girl in her majestic isolation, and I gazed across the mechitza and saw Karen davening, sans hat, and then I saw Ariel emerge from her belly bright and glistening like a skinned rabbit and now that little girl I have loved almost every minute of my life is a sad and grieving woman. Every once in a while I look up and catch sight of Karen in that identical posture -- it has become my madeleine. Karen gazes off into space, that sense of fine isolation still clings to her. She remains that spellbinding girl I loved with the perfect love of a child. However, now I know exactly what she's thinking for it is all I think about. Ariel, Ariel, our son is dead. Someone, please please please tell us how it is possible that we have moved from the schoolyard to the graveyard in one short lifetime?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Because I have no words here is a section from a letter the Lubavitcher rebbe wrote Ariel Sharon after he lost his young son...

An element of solace – indeed, more than just an element – is expressed in the ritual blessing, hallowed by scores of generations of Torah and tradition among our people: ‘May the Omnipresent comfort you among the mourners of Tzion and Yerushalayim.’

At first glance, the connection between the mourner to whom this blessing is directed and the mourners of Jerusalem’s destruction appears to be quite puzzling. In truth, however, they are connected, for as mentioned, the main consolation embodied by this phrase is in its inner content, namely, that just as the grief over Tzion and Yerushalayim is common to all the sons and daughters of our people, Israel, wherever they may be (although it is more palpable to those who dwell in Jerusalem and actually see the Western Wall and the ruins of our Holy Temple, than to those who are far away from it, nonetheless, even those who are far, experience great pain and grief over the destruction) so is the grief of a single individual Jew or Jewish family shared by the entire nation. For, as the Sages have taught, all of the Jewish people are one composite structure.

Another point and principle, expressing double consolation, is that just as G-d will most certainly rebuild the ruins of Tzion and Yerushalayim and gather the dispersed of Israel from the ends of the earth through our righteous Moshiach, so will He, without a doubt, remove the grief of the individual, fulfilling the promise [of resurrection] embodied by the verse, ‘Awaken and sing, you who repose in the dust.’ Great will be the joy, the true joy, when all [Jews, both of the present and past] will be rejoined at the time of the Resurrection of the Dead.

There is yet a third point: Just as in regard to Tzion and Yerushalayim, the Romans – and before them, the Babylonians – were given dominion only over the wood and stone, silver and gold of the Temple’s physical manifestation but not over its inner, spiritual essence, contained within the heart of each and every Jew – for the gentile nations have no dominion over this and it stands eternally – so too regarding the mourning of the individual, death dominates only the physical body and concerns of the deceased person. The soul, however, is eternal; it has merely ascended to the World of Truth. That is why any good deed [performed by the mourner] that accords with the will of the Giver of life, G-d, blessed be He, adds to the soul’s delight and merit, and to its general good.

June 3, 2004 at 9:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I must wholly disagree with the previous comment. If that can truly comfort one in the full sense of the word - I believe something is wrong with that person. This is nothing but superficial. One can believe that HaShem will send Mashiach and that they will see their deceased loved ones once again - however that is not comfort. That is but a distraction. It distracts you from looking and the here and now. For in the here and now they are gone, physically, which is really all that matters in this world. Something that is rarely said outloud is that the Mashiach is probably not going to come in our lifetimes or anytime in the forseeable future (if only since he is not forseeable...) which means one must live out the rest of their lives in this world in order to wait and see IF they will be reunited with their loved ones. You nor I, nor anyone else is any authority on what happens in Olam HaBa. Does it say anywhere that even if you are one of lamed vav tzadikim - that you will see your deceased loved ones again? Unfortunately, death is not something that can be reconciled so easily as mentioned Mashiach and Tchiyat HaMetim. People go, and they are gone. And no one knows if they will EVER be seen again.

I apologize for being so pessimistic, however, while I do not even pretend to even attempt to try and truly understand someone else's grief, I too have lost loved ones, and these are my thoughts on the matter, and they come from the heart. Yislach o lo k'fi retzono.

June 3, 2004 at 10:22 PM  
Blogger michele said...

I cannot stop reading. The first time was on a shabbas. I read My Unhinged Heart in the Jewish Press. I was drawn intoit when you mentioned the Yeshivah of Flatbush. I too am a graduate. Actually I graduated the highschool a year after your wife Karen. Even with my bad memory I remember that she was popular, smart, andsomeone that a lower classman would look up to. Please keep on writing. Yours is the story of alife. It gives meaning to all of us if we read it carefully.

August 1, 2004 at 6:42 AM  

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