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.