Thursday, July 08, 2004

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, 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...


Blogger YourMoralLeader said...

Glad to see you blogging again. I kept checking the site every day. Nothing new.
Modern Orthodox -- modern six days a week, and Orthodox on Shabbos.

July 9, 2004 at 7:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You know what else you're doing, with this blog and Seraphic Press? You're creating a future for Ariel - not the future he should have had, but a future nonetheless. Look how he has moved through the lives of people he never knew in life on earth, thanks to the efforts you and Karen have made and are making.

Ariel is in the present and Ariel will be in the future.


July 9, 2004 at 10:12 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was vacationing in LA just about a year ago and I needed to something to read during the Rabbis sermon on Shaabas. Convieniently, the shul set out several sheets of paper outlining the shuls weekly schedule, announcments and other must know information. In addition, i saw a reprint of an article from the Yated Neeman. As I redied myself to tune out the Rabbi I quickly became dissapointed because the Rabbi was going to recount a trip he took to Israel. I would have to put aside my reading material and listen to the Rabbi. The Rabbi was very engaging and made me wonder why there couldnt be more Rabbis like this where I live. Anyway, when I went back to the Hotel I sat down to read the Yated reprint. I must have read the article 5 , 6, 7, or 20 times. The article was titled Ariel Chaim Avrech, Z"l: A Tribute and it was the saddest yet most inspiring story. I took this reprint back home with me and situated it by my home desk. I don't read it every day but I do see Ariels picture every day. and if they say a picture is worth 1000 words well this picture is worth a lifetime of hope and happiness and inspiration.

I was in LA again a few weeks ago and saw an article published by Ariels dad about the one year Yartzhiet. I tried to get a copy of the article but it didnt work out. So on this Sat night at 3 am I decided to google and see if I could find the article. Instead I came upon Mr. Avrechs Blog. In your Blog you write that you are trying to bring Ariel back to life. I cannot pretend to fathom your loss and I pray that somehow you and your family find patches of consolation but perhaps I can offer some solace. I never knew Ariel Chaim but I think of him every day. When I need inspiration I look to my left and see his picture. Ariel has touched a complete stranger. He looks out with a smile that makes you feel comfortable becuase you see an inner happpiness in his eyes. It doesnt look like a cover up- hes not pretending, it is pure, natural and wholesome. I dont want to sound trite but Ariel is in a real way, alive. For all the good deeds he has done, the Kavod and dignity he brought to his family, his Rabbis and colleagues, and most importantly himself. and for all the people he touched in his life, for all the people he has touched since Hakadosh Baruch Hu has taken back his Neshamah, undoubtedly to seat Ariel next the the Kisai Hakavod.

Please continue to write and share the wonderful life that Ariel lived so the rest of us can learn from his example and keep him alive with in all of us.

I wish you and your family receives Menucha from Hakadosh Baruch Hu.

July 11, 2004 at 12:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I second the last motion.

July 11, 2004 at 1:04 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I read about the loss of your son and I'm greatly moved. I can relate to the depth of your pain because of what I experienced some time ago. I lost a parent suddenly, unexpectedly, over 20 years ago to a massive brain hemorrhage, without any time to prepare, without any time to say goodbye and "I love you."

The death of my mother, who was in her late 40s, has always left a wound in my soul, an extreme hurt in the beginning, a heavy melancholy today.

Early on, I recall experiencing dreams on an almost nightly basis in which my parent still was alive, still there to be embraced, to be spoken with, to be a part of those original family ties that, in reality, had ended so unexpectedly. I remember most of these dreams having an unpleasant surreal quality about them, because the deepest part of my mind would prod me (perhaps even mock me) into realizing that, yes, the world I was observing at that moment really didn't exist in the here and now. I'd then awaken, discover once more what I knew to be true and unchangeable, and then be hit by a fresh wave of mourning all over again. I still have such dreams on occasion today, but the frequency has ebbed over the years.

Thank God you at least had a bit of time to emotionally and physically prepare for the passing of your loved one, because the level of devastation is that much more paralyzing when such a person leaves this world suddenly, without any forewarning.

July 11, 2004 at 2:18 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just read your article, "My Heart Unhinged" in The Jewish Press. If I could share your pain and lessen it for you and your family, I would. But we know I cannot.

I can tell you one thing that your article will change in me. I have a wonderful 12 year-old son and I am going to tell him more often how wonderful he is and how much I love him. His name is Jacob and he is preparing for his Bar Mitzvah next November.

The next time I get angry at him and start to raise my voice, I will think of you and Ariel. Your article and blog will make me a better father and I thank you for sharing your thoughts.

July 15, 2004 at 2:34 PM  
Blogger With Love said...

At a friend's suggestion, I read Seraphic Secret for the first time today. I know intimately - too intimately - what you are going through. I myself lost a daughter to leukaemia about three and a half years ago. Like you, I am a religious Jew who has many more questions than answers. And like you, I have just started a blog in which I try to put in words what really can't be expressed. It's called "Five Years Later," and describes both what was happening five years ago, during my daughter's final illness, and what is going on with me and our family today. If you are interested, the link is
May you and Karen be comforted among the mourners of Zion.

August 9, 2004 at 11:08 PM  
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