Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Transformed

Karen and I enjoy the coziness of our home. We keep odd hours, idiosyncratic schedules that invariably finds one of us wandering around the house at three, or four in the morning. So, it's not easy for us to have guests, especially sleep-over guests on Shabbos. But when Yachad, an important Jewish organization which organizes tours and social groups including both disabled and abled youth, called and asked if two counselors and two campers could stay with us for Shabbos, we had to overcome our habitual impulse towards privacy. Clearly, this was a special situation, and our answer was clear.

When Ariel was sick, people took the time to visit him day after day, month after month. Karen and I recognized that visiting the sick, helping those who need it, is a mitzvah of paramount importance. And so, when our guests finally did show up, imagine our delight when we fell into easy conversation with each of them. David has a huge smile and a wicked sense of humor. Kobe knows movies backwards and forwards. Counselor Aaron, an audiologist when not volunteering his time to Yachad, smiled happily when he learned that I wrote and produced A Stranger Among Us. It was, he said, one of his favorite films. Jason, Director of Community Affairs for Yachad, is active in national politics and opened my eyes to a whole range of halachic questions that have arisen because of the new activism of Orthodox Jews in American politics.

Kobe and David shyly asked if it would be okay if I took their picture with the Emmy I won a few years ago for The Devil's Arithmetic. They grinned and chuckled as I took the picture and instructed them to thank the academy. Right before Shabbos, David asked who owned the Transformers. "They belong to our son, Ariel, " we answered. David told us that he absolutely loves Transformers. We did not tell David that Ariel died. That our son is no longer here to reminisce about his childhood toys. But for one brief moment I was tempted to give David one of them. Would Ariel have wanted me to? I just couldn't decide. Ariel never threw away any of his toys. And the truth is, I need them. I cannot imagine the space in Ariel's room without them. Right before Shabbos, David and Kobe presented themselves in their Shabbos clothing. Without thinking, I shot forward and fussed over the boys: I meticulously buttoned David's collar, straightened Kobe's waistband. I complimented them on how handsome they looked and I remembered how I used to take such pleasure in helping Ariel knot his beautiful silk ties.

After the Yachad group left for their Shabbos program, Karen and I felt hollowed out. Ariel's absence was more pronounced than ever before. We actually sat up on Friday night, and waited for the boys to return. At the end of the weekend, after our guests went home, we experienced the emptiness of the house in a new and raw way. I am father to two wonderful girls and I relish each and every moment with them, but I miss, oh how I miss, being father to a son. I am still Ariel's father. I will always be Ariel's father. But the small, intimate male rituals are gone, and life without them is a pale shadow of what it once was.

Karen Comments: I had the same thought, I contemplated whether we should offer one of Ariel's transformers to David. I did not raise the idea because I sensed that I would be putting Robert in an awkward dilemma. But there was another reason. I feel attached to Ariel's favorite belongings. Ariel was a generous person, but these objects were precious to him, he loved to talk about the process of acquiring his favorite, humongous Transformers. I kept quiet because of my own need as a conservor, a guardian of the few material objects that Ariel loved. Sometimes love causes me to be selfish. Guilt ensues.

16 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are both doing what you have to do to survive. Do not feel guilty for this. I am sad that, on top of everything else, you are faced with these dilemmas. No one could fault either of you either way.

--jackie

August 17, 2004 at 8:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh, Robert and Karen - you have enough difficult emotions now...don't add guilt about a possession to the collection!

Your child's toys were a part of who he was. If you are comforted by them and want to keep them, please do so. And do not feel a twinge of guilt about it.

I predict that one day, these material items will have far less importance to you. But sadly, that day may be long into the future.

Whether it is or is not, however, do what you need to do to survive now. These nice boys do not need Ariel's toys.

You do.

Peg K

August 18, 2004 at 7:17 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ariel's toys belong with you.
Hold on to them and to all the memories they bring you. Don't let go.

August 18, 2004 at 9:55 AM  
Blogger Sarah said...

When the time is right to let go of the toys, you'll know. Until then, take care of yourself. You gave your guests a wonderful, memorable Shabbat. They had a great time they'll never forget. It's OK to have your own needs, as well. Don't be ashamed of being human.

Your blog is very moving. I check it every day.

August 18, 2004 at 1:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

let me add to the chorus of voices: don't feel guilty. that shabbos was an amazing gift to your orchim. i'm a friend of one of them, and just thought i should tell you that your reputation for sharing your kindness -- well, the word is getting around.

and thank you for blogging, and for being brave enough to share your story with the rest of us.

August 20, 2004 at 1:18 PM  
Blogger YachadJL said...

Thank You. As one of your four guests, the last Shabbos of Yachad's Yad B' Yad West Coast 04 Summer Adventure I do not express the level of gratitude David, Kobe, Aaron and I feel toward both of you for the time we spent in your wonderful home.
You gave to us, and you gave to us and when you could not, and probably should not have given something, the Transformers, which, David neither expected nor anticipated as a gift, you felt guilty. Others who posted comments suggested you should not feel guilty. I do not presume the authority to tell you how to feel. We each have our own feelings, emotions and experiences. I can however reinforce how much you did give and how much we cherish the time we spent with you. You opened up your home, giving us a place to stay. This may seem easy to some, but inviting complete strangers into your home is not easy. A place to sleep, though, is not all you gave us. You gave us a home, that is, you opened your hearts to us as well. You stayed up waiting for us to come home, despite our late arrival. You scoured the neighborhood for a wheelchair on Shabbos morning because you insisted that I should not walk so far to the Shul; despite the fact such actions forced you to miss your regular Minyan. You bought us food even though we ate all of our meals at the Shul. You spoke to us, and more importantly listened to us and took those pictures; oh, how much the Emmy picture means to Kobe and David. You gave so much.
At Yachad, we have over seventy-five Shabbatons a year in communities throughout the United States and Canada. For each, we depend on hosts opening their homes to us. When a participant of a Yachad Shabbaton knocks on the door of their host, each knows there will be a bed, but we can only hope and pray that when the door opens each will find a home like the one we on that special Shabbos, a home filled with love, a home like your home.
As for Ariel, no one will ever be able to fill that void. No one but Ariel can be Ariel, but you can have new experiences, new memories, and new relationships. Each of these will bring new light into your life. Each will be informed and affected by your life with Ariel but I hope and pray that each is not prevented by your experience.
It was a big step for you to welcome us, as guests, into you home, a risk, I, for one, am glad you took. I hope the experience is the first of many others.
On behalf of Yachad and most of all David, Kobe, Aaron and myself, I wish to end where I began by saying thank you.
Jason
Director of Community and Government Affairs
Yachad/The National Jewish Council for Disabilities

August 23, 2004 at 2:41 PM  
Blogger YachadJL said...

Thank You. As one of your four guests, the last Shabbos of Yachad's Yad B' Yad West Coast 04 Summer Adventure I do not express the level of gratitude David, Kobe, Aaron and I feel toward both of you for the time we spent in your wonderful home.
You gave to us, and you gave to us and when you could not, and probably should not have given something, the Transformers, which, David neither expected nor anticipated as a gift, you felt guilty. Others who posted comments suggested you should not feel guilty. I do not presume the authority to tell you how to feel. We each have our own feelings, emotions and experiences. I can however reinforce how much you did give and how much we cherish the time we spent with you. You opened up your home, giving us a place to stay. This may seem easy to some, but inviting complete strangers into your home is not easy. A place to sleep, though, is not all you gave us. You gave us a home, that is, you opened your hearts to us as well. You stayed up waiting for us to come home, despite our late arrival. You scoured the neighborhood for a wheelchair on Shabbos morning because you insisted that I should not walk so far to the Shul; despite the fact such actions forced you to miss your regular Minyan. You bought us food even though we ate all of our meals at the Shul. You spoke to us, and more importantly listened to us and took those pictures; oh, how much the Emmy picture means to Kobe and David. You gave so much.
At Yachad, we have over seventy-five Shabbatons a year in communities throughout the United States and Canada. For each, we depend on hosts opening their homes to us. When a participant of a Yachad Shabbaton knocks on the door of their host, each knows there will be a bed, but we can only hope and pray that when the door opens each will find a home like the one we on that special Shabbos, a home filled with love, a home like your home.
As for Ariel, no one will ever be able to fill that void. No one but Ariel can be Ariel, but you can have new experiences, new memories, and new relationships. Each of these will bring new light into your life. Each will be informed and affected by your life with Ariel but I hope and pray that each is not prevented by your experience.
It was a big step for you to welcome us, as guests, into you home, a risk, I, for one, am glad you took. I hope the experience is the first of many others.
On behalf of Yachad and most of all David, Kobe, Aaron and myself, I wish to end where I began by saying thank you.
Jason
Director of Community and Government Affairs
Yachad/The National Jewish Council for Disabilities

August 23, 2004 at 3:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As David's parent, I wanted to take this opportunity to thank you for hosting these four boys for that special weekend. My husband and I want to tell you how sorry we are about your loss. To be able to open the doors to your home as well as you'r son's room in these times is a compliment to your commitment to this special group. Our family has just also suffered a tragic loss and David with his qucik wit and sense of humor has helped us to get thru these times. He is caught in a comlex of emotions which makes his situation a "between and betwix" place to be. There are kids who by no fault of their own have to live in two worlds not always knowing why them. For most part his is the average world with some minor shortcoming and being in your home that weekend gave him one of the best times he had this past summer. For him to be able to see others who cherish the same things he does, like those transformers gave him a feeling of warmth and acceptance. He spoke very highly of his visit with your family and you should all be able to continue forward for many years to come. Once again, thank you from all of us in Detroit.

October 12, 2004 at 11:51 AM  
Blogger TheGomzai said...

I just learned of your story and blog site today. I am so sorry for your loss.

I know it has been a couple of months since you posted your story about your guests from the Yachad Yad B'Yad group, but I felt I needed to post a comment. I know that it was difficult for you and your family to invite visitors into your home for Shabbat, much less strangers who were unaware of your situation. You tell the story of David asking about the Transformers and how for one brief moment you were tempted to give David one of them but could not. David did not ask about the toy expecting anything more than to reminisce with someone about one of his favorite childhood toys. He would never think to take something as precious as that from anyone. My name is Esty and David is my younger brother. When he spoke with us and told us about Shabbat in L.A., he was so excited to tell us how he "stayed in someone’s house that won an Emmy!!" He told us about the wonderful time he had that Shabbat and all the people he got to see. Thank you for meticulously buttoning David's collar and making sure he looked handsome for Shabbat. I truly want to thank you for letting me read your story and allowing me for a brief moment to see a side of my brother I don't get to see often. As difficult as the weekend was for your family, it was one of the highlights of David’s summer.

October 12, 2004 at 1:47 PM  
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