Words of Fire
It happens now when I least expect it. Before, it was a chord of music, the page of a book, a prayer chanted in shul that would bring Ariel before my eyes. No, not an hallucination. But something more tangible. His presence would suddenly fill my body, and I would be frozen. My heart would thump in my head and everything solid would fade away, as if an engineer had gradually turned down the volume on reality. But now it happens at moments when I am simply not prepared. These are moments when I am defenseless, totally vulnerable.
This afternoon, Karen and I meet with a financial advisor. He is a lovely, soft spoken man, an Israeli who proudly tells us that his daughter-in-law is a Rabbi, and the mother of a new-born baby. Mazal Tov, we say to him. As he leans over his yellow pad and scrawls out the figures that represent our net worth, our taxable income, the expenses we pay out for the yeshiva education our children are receiving, as he drones on about retirement, as he projects the eventual marriages of our daughters Lila and Chloe, as he spins financial tales of the future -- I freeze. Everything stops. His voice disappears and all I can hear is the blood churning in my body. My heart slaps away, goes boom, boom, boom. And abruptly my eyes are filled with the image of Ariel. My son, who has no future, fills my vision. I cannot plan anything beyond Ariel's next Yahrtzeit, and the Yahrtzeit after that one. And suddenly, I am between my heart beats. I am saying to myself: this is not right. It is not the way it should be. Karen and I should be talking about Ariel as chassan. He should be telling me, with a sly smile, that I have to buy his bride a fine and elegant shaitel, wig, for that is the way things are done, and he knows that I am, in all probability, entirely ignorant of these finer points. Ariel loved to catch me in my numerous gaps of the proper etiquette within the yeshivish world. For I was brought up in the vanilla universe of modern orthodoxy, which, as some like to point out, is not quite modern and perhaps not really orthodox. But that's subject matter for someone else. Perhaps my friend Levi would like to enter into this mine field of Jewish debate.
I hear Karen's voice: Robert, are you all right? I snap out of my reverie, look at Karen and nod my head. She knows exactly what has happened, and her concern for me, her love, is deeply set in her Elizabeth Taylor--of National Velvet--eyes; and it is comforting. I am, in spite of everything, a lucky man to be loved by this beautiful and level-headed woman. I give her a little nod, letting her know that I really am fine, I'm not about to fall apart.
A few hours later, I receive a phone call from an old friend who is going through a terrible time in his life. He has read Seraphic Secret for the first time and he asks me:
"Why are you doing this?"
"What do you mean?"
"It's so...so...intimate, Robert. It's just not like you." I can hear it in my friend's voice; he dissapproves of this blog; he is intensely uncomfortable.
"Well, I'm not me, anymore."
"It's so, so, so horribly revealing; and painful."
"Do you find that it's healing for you?"
I turn this over in my mind. I wince at the new-age terminology. I have to admit: I hate it. Yet, I know that he is a good and fine man who is going through the gates of hell at this very moment. And he means well. Healing? Well, I am not drinking Kabbalah water from some loony Hollywood cult populated by brain dead actors. I am not "sharing" with a group of pony-tailed hipsters. I am not knee deep in the "Grief" book shelves at Barnes & Noble. That is not who I am. Not who I ever was. I pour words into a computer, I dump the contents of my heart into cybersphere. Or, as my friend Jackie patiently explains to me: I am having a non-hierarchical conversation. In plain English: I am speaking to anyone and everyone. You can be a plumber or a poet, a Rabbi or an engineer, Jew or Christian, and my words go out to you with no intermediary, no social filter. As Martin Buber would say, it is Ich un Du, the I and Thou relationship. But judging by the mail I receive, the unexpected long distance phone calls, I am crying out to and with, other grief-stricken parents. I am in dialogue with exceptionally fine and authentic people who also experience Ariel's loss though they never met him. They sense that the world has been irrevocably damaged. They too are sorely confused by the heavenly calculas of life and death.
But the question remains: What am I doing?I think I know. I think I understand. I think it is this simple: writing this blog, this website, this diary of love and grief, I am...
I am trying to bring Ariel back to life.
HaShem created the universe with words; Hebrew letters written in black fire on sheets of white fire. Judiasm believes in the power of words. It is what I have left. My only weapon. My only shield. Words. One after the other. Floating out to you and you and you...