Monday, August 09, 2004

Seraphic AA

Karen writes in her Shabbos note: I feel like I've been in a protective bubble all year. More recently, perhaps because I'm less distracted by work, or perhaps I've been protected because I needed to be gradually eased into the pain. But I am actually beginning to miss Ariel. Before, I felt his presence as an abstraction, now I miss every physical part of him, his voice, his look, his steps. Will the shudder that overtakes my body diminish when I make contact with the pain? Will the physical manifestation of grief fade as the barrier dissolves? I don't know. I just feel that Ariel's death is finally being incorporated into my reality, a bridge is being formed between my old life and my new life. I guess that's what's called "working through" or "integration." Again, the real feeling approaches. Our Shabbos table is very quiet. Karen and I are alone. Our girls are both away. Karen and I chat. Karen shows me the latest kashrus guide from Trader Joes. We analyze the various kashrus logos. I'm fixated on the graphic element; what works and what doesn't? Karen wonders which hechsher our community accepts. The politics of kosher certification is Byzantine. Sometimes, downright ugly. We clear off the table. In the living room, Karen and I sit in our chairs and read. I'm in the middle of eight or nine different books. I read a chapter in one book, put it down, move on to the next. ADD, anyone? Actually, I prefer to think of myself as a restless intellect. My high school rebbeim had another word for it: undisciplined. My reading on Shabbos night is never productive. My body is set to go to sleep as quickly as possible. So I sit in the chair and read the same sentences over and over again. My head droops like a flower after the sun goes down. Shabbos is hard. It is Shabbos without my son, Ariel. The quiet penetrates. I feel Ariel's absence as a physical ache that never lets up. The reality of his non-being becomes more real with each passing day. I keep asking: Where has all his learning gone? All that Torah, all that knowledge? I know, I know, he's in yeshiva shel ma'alah; he's learning with the gedolim. But I'm sorry. That does not make me feel much better. I want him here. I want his flesh, warm against me as I hug him. I want him, not the idea of him, not the memory of him, not his spirit. No words of consolation can fill the void. No abstract angelic images convince. Perhaps I'm not religious enough. One of my best friends in the community is an alcoholic. He's observant, with wife and children, but if he did not go to AA, he would sink into a life of alcoholic debauchery. A few weeks ago I told him that if I could I think I'd like to become an alcoholic, just to drown myself and forget everything. What's stopping you? he said with a smile. I'm allergic to alcohol, I explained sheepishly. I get migraines just smelling liquor. My friend laughed and told me that a real alcoholic drinks no matter what. Maybe a drug addict, I suggested. Anything to get away from this awful reality. My friend, let's call him, Gabriel, took me with him to an AA meeting. It was an astonishing cross section of men: no women at this meeting; this was a AA shteibl. There were business executives, blue collar workers, one genuine rock star, a famous actor. I sat and listened as one after the other they described all the awful things they did because of their addictions. The tales were harrowing. Lies to spouses. Adulteries. Theft. One man, a Russian Jew with the delivery of Henny Youngman, spoke of taking his infant child to a crack house. Buying drugs instead of formula. These men all rely on the support of their fellow AA members. It is touching to see the genuine care and love extended to the most fallen of the group. Several men introduce themselves to me. They assume that I'm another alcoholic. I feel like saying: I'm actually the father of a dead child. But can I stay anyway? IN AA they keep referring to a Higher Power. Higher Power? It's like something from a science fiction movie: Higher Power Battles Godzilla. What the heck is that? Soon, I realized that they were talking about HaShem. I thought to myself, why don't they say, God? That is His name. And after the meeting is over, the men rise, join hands and intone a prayer. Some have tears in their eyes. Others smile with the release of a burden too heavy to bear. Gabriel explained that calling HaShem the Higher Power is AA's way of including everybody, even atheists. Okay, I get it. And I realized that these men have are just another break-a-way minyan. The shul they were going to failed them. The medical establishment, the psychologists, clergy, all failed to understand them. And so, they built their shul. But certain truths follow; and it becomes increasingly clear to me that no matter where you go, no matter what the society, it always comes back to HaShem. Man eventually has to come to grips with his finitude. The world, it is too large. The world, it is too dangerous. The world, it is too overwhelming for us to cope with no other reference outside of ourselves. So, my plans for addiction (never serious, merely the ravings of a bereaved father who has never even tasted beer) are dashed, and I'm back where I started. The AA people speak of a Higher Power. Karen and I believe in HaShem and so we must extend that belief into the final realm. The place where Ariel's spirit now resides. I must go on without him. I can't. I will go on. I don't want to. I write one word after another. Take one breath and then another. I see him. I can touch him. But he is not what he was. And somehow I have to live with that.


Blogger OrthodoxAlkie said...

I'm "Gabriel" of the story, a close friend of Robert's, an Orthodox Jew, and a sober member of Alcoholics Anonymous. If you think you might have a drinking problem, please call me at 310 497 8547 or email me at My real name is Michael, but you can call me Gabriel

August 9, 2004 at 3:11 PM  
Blogger Joe Schick said...


We've never met, but did correspond via e-mail on something a couple of years ago. As I mentioned then, your work - especially a very early work of yours - was very inspiring to me. I'm very sorry that you've gone through some tough times and am glad that you're now doing well.

-Joe Schick

August 9, 2004 at 6:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Your writing is so poignant and alive...I am moved to tears as I read of your pain in missing Ariel.

As for the "Higher Power" - I am a secular Jew who attends a 12 step meeting every week to help me to learn and cope with an addicted spouse. Some combination of the steps, the group and the wisdom does indeed help. And - the "Higher Power."

The more that I study, the more I become aware of the need of people to believe in something larger and more profound than themselves. Does it matter what we call this power? I don't know.

All I know is that it has given me strength and comfort.

I hope that in time, you and your family is able to find a bit more peace.


August 9, 2004 at 10:09 PM  
Blogger With Love said...

I'm new to the blog scene. I also lost a child, and wanted to post a comment to "Seraphic AA" and, indeed, to the entire Blog; by mistake, I posted it to "Words of Fire." I won't repeat it here, except to wish you again the G-d will comfort you and Karen. My previous post contains the link to my own blog, which I only now started.

August 9, 2004 at 11:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You're not at all ADD. Afer all you read Proust.
It's just that your precious son Ariel is what you are always thinking about.
Anything and everything else is commentary.

August 12, 2004 at 3:50 PM  
Blogger Roberto Iza Valdes said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

November 3, 2005 at 10:10 PM  
Blogger Antonio Hicks said...

I was just browsing various blogs as I was doing a search on the word poster, and I just wanted to say that I really like what you've done with your blog, even though it wasn't particularly related to what I searched for. I appreciate your postings, and your blog is a good example of how a blog should be done. I've only just recently started a Posters website - feel free to visit it when you get a chance if you wish. Much success, antonio.

November 9, 2005 at 10:45 AM  

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