It has been raining here in Los Angeles for two days. Sometimes, it turns into a torrential downpour. Houses are leaking all over the city. Cars are plowing into one another on the freeway. In the canyons, there are mudslides. There is flooding all over the Los Angeles basin. This is not a city that copes well with anything but sunshine. And on the news, grim images of the terrible tsunami that killed thousands upon thousands of people. Karen and I force ourselves to look at footage of parents wailing over the bodies of their dead children. Whole generations have all but disappeared in the blink of an eye. Is this what The Flood was like?
I lurk on Jewish websites for grieving parents and everyone seems to ask the same question about this massive tragedy: what did God have in mind? And anyone who is foolish enough to answer looks, well, foolish. All answers are simplistic and reductive and leave only larger questions that are all but unanswerable. I have no patience for the pat answers that some people propose: It’s a test, it’s an accounting, ultimately it’s all for the good… These truly dumb answers bring out a kind of maniacal fury in me.
When Ariel was sick, I stopped looking for answers because, I quickly discovered, it was a waste of energy. As Job (42:3) says to HaShem: I can understand nothing. It is beyond me. I shall never know.
The endless platitudes can drive you crazy. Karen and I just plunged into the work of trying to get getting Ariel healed. And now that Ariel is dead, the same strategy applies. We keep as busy as we can; this time in the effort to memorialize him. All questions are set aside in favor of a dignified silence. This is, I believe, The Rav’s paradigm of The Lonely Man of Faith.
But when the rain comes, Karen and I look at one another and we shudder. For the rain reminds us that our son’s body is under the ground. He’s getting wet. We want to keep him warm and dry. That’s what a parent is supposed to do, protect his children.
Karen says: “We have to remind ourselves that it’s not Ariel who is under the ground. It’s not him.”
I nod in agreement. “No, it’s not Ariel.”
So why do I still feel the urge to run to the cemetery and cover his grave with a water-proof tarp?
Karen adds: Robert asked me to read his latest entry to elicit my comments, “See if you want to add anything” he always says. Reading through my tears I think, there is nothing to say, he has captured the deluge perfectly. Then I remember what happened today. I was coming out of work, the rain had been going on and off all day, literally a temperamental spigot. Yes, it was raining again, but this time the sun was out too. I looked to the sky, and there it was, a full rainbow cresting above the yeshiva across the street. My thought: How wondrous, if only Ariel could see it. All things, rainbows too, are reflected through my memories of his delight, his sensitivity, his brilliance.