Dear Mr. Elder:
My son, Ariel, was a Rabbinical student until several months ago when he developed Pulmonary Fibrosis. He is now waiting for a lung transplant in Cedars Sinai Hospital. For years, my son and I have listened to your radio program, enjoyed it, and learned a tremendous amount. Ariel was admitted to the ICU five weeks ago and he will be there until a lung becomes available. He has been waiting for close to a year already. While in the hospital Ariel has read and reread your books and I have printed out your weekly articles for him because Ariel always wants to know "what Larry is thinking these days."
I have a tremendous favor to ask. Would it be possible for you to visit Ariel -- just for a few minutes? My son is a brilliant young man and as you can imagine, living in the ICU 24/7 can drive anyone crazy. And aside from his Rabbinic teachers I cannot think of anyone Ariel admires more than you. . . .
Ariel is a gravely sick young man yet he never complains, never makes demands, never says "Why me?" When my wife and I ask him what he wants, he simply asks for more prayers. But I know that meeting you would lift his spirits immeasurably. I know that a few minutes with you would bring a smile to his lips. I know that meeting Larry Elder would add a layer of joy to his life that nothing else could even come close to. . . .
Ariel has no idea that I'm writing to you. If he did, he'd tell me to stop, he'd tell me not to bother you. He's that kind of person.
Robert J. Avrech
Well, after receiving this letter on May 6, 2003, I most certainly did visit Ariel. I treasured our brief meeting. Sadly, Ariel passed away a few weeks later, never having found a lung donor. Recently, his father and I had lunch, and he asked that I contribute my thoughts about Ariel for a memorial book. I want to share those thoughts with you.
Ariel and God
Several months ago, I received an e-mail from Ariel Avrech's father, Robert. He told me that his 22-year-old son, at Cedars Sinai, lay awaiting a lung transplant. Ariel and his father, while in the hospital, often listened to my show, and discussed and debated many of the issues I brought up.
Robert told me that, through the radio, I became something of a -- I don't know the right word -- influence, inspiration, a hero to his son. Would I, asked Robert, take time from my busy schedule to visit his son?
Allow me to back up. As a child, I loved baseball, especially baseball movies. I recall a scene where a baseball star visited a child in the hospital. Inspired by the visit, the child rallied to better health. I often wondered who benefited more from the visit -- the baseball star, or the child. I promised myself that if I were ever in a position to be of such a service for a child in need, I would leap at the chance, while humbled at the opportunity.
Ariel and I talked approximately 45 minutes. Ariel could respond only intermittently, so I did most of the talking. Robert earlier warned me of Ariel's continuously weakened condition, that he and I could spend little time together, and that any response from Ariel would cause a further deterioration of Ariel's condition.
After my visit, Robert said that Ariel spoke often and cheerfully of our conversation, and how special it made him feel. How special it made him feel?
I learned that, four years earlier, hospitalized while battling cancer, Ariel managed to nevertheless achieve the honor of becoming his high school class's valedictorian. Ariel never said, "Why me?" "Why am I receiving such punishment?" -- never asked why God dealt him such a bad hand. Ariel strived to make the best of his situation, kept his spirits up, and despite his obvious obstacles, continued to achieve and grow. His courage and bravery inspire me to this day.
In my living room, I have photos of myself with Walter Cronkite, with former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, and with former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. But at the top of my "wall of fame" sits the photo that Robert took of Ariel and me.
One more thing. Muhammad Ali once visited a child with terminal cancer. Ali said to him, "Come on. You're gonna beat this thing. You're gonna beat cancer. You can count on it." The child looked up at Ali, smiled, but said, "No, Champ. I'm going to go and meet God. And I'm gonna tell him I know you."
Thank you, Ariel. For someday, I hope to tell God that I know you.