Ariel attended a rigorously orthodox high school here in Los Angeles. The boys studied a vast amount of Talmud, leaving just enough time for the secular subjects. Ariel thrived in this academic envoronment for he loved Talmud and Torah and took great joy in the complex arguments that make up the Oral Law. I, however, worried that he was missing out on some of the great works of literature. And so Karen and I hired a private tutor for Ariel. Once a week, in the evening, after night-seder Ariel would get together with the tutor for a two hour session — a deep immersion in the great works of the western canon. I worked out the readng list with the tutor and accompanied Ariel to the first class, reasoning that I would stay with him for the first few minutes then slip away once I felt all was under control. But I discovered that I was enjoying the class immensely and asked Ariel if I could take it with him. He smiled, delighted and said: “Welcome to high school, Dad.” Initially, Ariel was puzzled by our first choice: Antigone, but soon the central drama clicked in his mind and he found himself admiring the brave, the loyal, the stubborn doomed heroine. He enjoyed Edgar A Poe, especially the spooky, haunted tales. Stephen Crane was a washout. The great revelation was Jane Austen. The frenzied shidduch making among the English gentry amused Ariel no end and from then on I think Ariel read Pride and Prejudice at least once a year. When Ariel was sick we often watched one of the BBC productions, and I even treated him to a viewing of the old MGM adaptration with Greer Garson and Laurence Olivier. Ariel laughed at the insistent, chirpy score and the unbelievable hats, some looking like alien plants, worn by the actresses. We were reading out of order and we next found ourselves in the dark and Catholic world of James Joyce and his incomparable Dubliners. Ariel was moved, deeply moved by The Dead, but as we were about to move on to Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Ariel asked if we coul skip more Joyce. Why? “The Catholic imagery, it makes me uncomfortable, Daddy.” We moved on. Our next book was, for Ariel, the most baffling and yet the most rewarding: Moby Dick. We read it together, out loud to one another on many evenings. I had never seen Ariel so disturbed, so confused, by well, by anything. On the one hand, he was intrigued by the great white whale and what it meant. Yet a part of him desperately wanted to push the whole thing aside, relegate it to the file that reads: “unnecessary knowledge.” But Ariel was, like his mother, a tenacious intellect. No matter how he tried, he could not convince himself that Melville’s tale of good and evil was just a huge academic hoax. Deep in his heart Ariel knew that something important was going on; between the pages of Moby Dick vital questions were being debated. In our last discussion of the book Ariel read his final report; he had come up with some compelling notions: “Imagine,” he said, “that you are in a large room with Moby Dick. You try to get a look at the beast, but you can’t. He’s simply too big, too white. No matter how far back you step, you will not be able to see the whale as a whole. You will only see pieces. Some pieces will look beautiful, whereas other views will present as sinister, evil. This is the essence of the whale. No man has the vision, the ability to comprehend the meaning of the whale and its dazzling whiteness. The only point of view that has any chance of making any coherent sense is from on high. From God’s perspective. Just as we wrestle with questions of good and evil, we can never understand God’s plan. So too are we confounded by Moby Dick. His whiteness suggests benevolence, but the whiteness dazzles; it hurts our eyes with its majesty. And though Moby Dick leaves death and chaos in its wake, we feel deep affection for the great white whale, we love the leviathan for its unique magnificence. We respect its strength. We believe,” concluded Ariel, “that the whale can bring justice along with destruction.” The tutor gave Ariel an A plus for his essay. Looking back, I don’t think Ariel read Moby Dick ever again.
My grief is like the whale. It is so vast, so infused with Hashem’s light that I can barely see even one corner of my pain, much less make sense of it. I step back, I try and look at myself, at my limitless mourning but all I see is a tiny smudge, a dot of no great signifigance. No matter how hard I try I cannot view my grief with any clarity. This blog is, perhaps my desperate attempt at making sense of a life that has been plunged into a space that exists beyond the boundaries of language and imagination. I remember. I write. I try and understand the past. I try to recapture my beloved son, but for every word written, a hundred, a thousand, a million are abandoned. And I fear that for every memory unearthed, dozens are lost in the funereal gray folds of my brain. Sometimes I fear that I will not be able to see the most simple elements of who Ariel was, of what our relationship was made of. And last night my fear was realized. Karen sat down and read this blog – for the very first time. She sat in our bedroom and read. I waited, tense and fearing that she would despise what I have written. Karen has always been my harshest and most honest critic. When I give her a completed screenplay, I melt with the terror of a bad review. I was afraid that she would find this blog false and vain and self-absorbed; an insult to Ariel’s holy neshama; an exercise in new age narcissism. Karen read and soon she was sobbing. “Oh, Robert” she said, “you need Ariel’s love so badly.” And it hit me, this simple truth that I had never seen before: Ariel is dead and a central portion of my soul is dying; for each and every day I am withering away for lack of his love.
Several of my readers have manged to get hold of my e-mail; they want to write to me privately, avoiding the too public “comments” section of the blog. I understand perfectly. So, anyone who wishes, please write to me at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Special thanks to Luke Ford.net for linking me to his compelling site. Luke knew Ariel, even learned Pirkei Avot with him. Ariel was fond of Luke. That said, I must, however, add a warning to my readers that some of Luke’s material is simply not appropriate for Torah Jews or for my Christian friends.