Children of the Earth


(Address following the marriage of Daniel and Jessica Adelman on Friday afternoon, 9 August 2013.)


Howard Adelman

The Passover seder we hold each year focuses on children who  are invited to ask questions. Customarily, we describe four types of children according to how they perform. An innocent child, usually one too young, is unable to verbalize questions; for that child, we formulate both the question and the answer. The simple child can ask but needs only a simple answer. The wise child needs an extended story and multiple possible answers to the same question. A contrary child, the fourth type, sets himself apart from the community gathered together to celebrate the feast of freedom and asks: “Why do you – not us, not we – why do you celebrate Passover?

I pose the following question to you: what kind of child was Daniel? (You can email me if you want to know the correct answer.)

Now I want to make a different fourfold division among children. The division is rooted in Greek philosophy rather than in our Hebraic heritage. Children are divided into four types and become four kinds of adults. There are children of air and children of fire, children of water and children of earth. My six children came in all four varieties. We are blessed to have with us at this celebration all of Daniel’s siblings but one. The sixth could not come but sent her son, Eitan, from Israel to be with us. Eitan, thank you for coming all that way.

Eitan’s mother, my daughter, Rachel, was a child of the air, an ethereal child about whom I always had nightmares as Nazi thugs pursued us. Her daydreaming and other-worldly imaginative pre-occupations threatened to delay our escape. Capture was always immanent. Fortunately, Rachel found a career and lifestyle as a professor of biblical studies that allows her to be both a child of the air but, combined with her beliefs and practices rooted in Orthodox Judaism, keeps her grounded. If you meet and talk with Eitan for awhile, you will get a glimpse of a child of the air. He may have won recognition when he won the President of Israel’s medal for being an outstanding paratrooper in the Israel Defence Forces, but that is not what I mean when I describe him as a child of the air. He lives in his imagination, in a mediaeval world populated by knights governed by a code of courage and valour. The children of the air blow the spirit of the divine breath, ruah, on both Daniel and Jess. Rachel has asked me personally to convey how deeply she regrets not being here; she sends her heartfelt wishes to Daniel and Jess for a happy and loving life together.

Some of my other children are more difficult to categorize. Two of them – Shonagh and Gabriel – were children of fire, not wildfire, but children of light and colour and angle of vision – as well as darkness and fiery lava from within the crust of the earth. That fire thrust them into artistic careers – Shonagh is a well recognized pop-surrealist painter and Gabriel is a film maker. Thank both of you for coming – Shonagh all the way from New York.

Eric is more difficult to categorize. He, and his son Sasha and daughter, Esmé, flew from Toronto. Sasha and his father share a sensitivity to others that sometimes becomes painful to observe. Neither is or was a child of air or fire. I do not think Eric is a child of the earth, and, perhaps, is like his oldest sibling, Jeremy, who came to British Columbia with his family from Princeton with his wife, Debbie, and children, Sammy, Jo Jo and Sadie. Jeremy was a child of water combining a capacity for fluidity with an ability to cut a stream through granite rock to produce one scholarly book after another to capture and preserve every whisper, every sigh, every word he has heard or read to produce one scholarly masterpiece after another. His latest book has been nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.

Eric and Jeremy are very different. But the Nile and the Mississippi are different. So are the Mackenzie and the Fraser. No two rivers are the same. But each river cuts its way through rock and each allows the earth to be nourished.

Daniel is my only child of the earth. Anne Michaels in her novel, The Winter Vault, began with these words: “Perhaps we painted on our own skin, with ochre and charcoal, before we painted on stone.” Children of the earth especially paint themselves and their characters with what they do with their own skin, their own flesh and their own bones. They do not paint or portray or depict others in words, but become the personalities of their own portraits. They have an exceptional wisdom in choosing friends and especially life partners. Daniel has, as well and, as everyone knows, an extraordinary capacity for cultivating acquaintances. Malcolm Gladwell called these children of the earth “Connectors”. They accept the obligations that friendship requires.

Daniel manages to occupy and enjoy many different worlds, subcultures and niches from tiling to philosophy, from researching oil pipelines to an interest in real estate that allows him to collect an enormous range of characters as friends. He does not do it deliberately. It is an offshoot of his curiousity, sociability and energy. Daniel is a people enthusiast. 

Children of the air, may, like the dove, leave the ark to test whether the flood has receded and return with a single leaf in their beak. But when they find the earth has dried out, they do not return. Children of the earth, however, never forget their origins even if they vigorously protest the illogic of their beginnings and the absurdities in memorializing change. Their sentiments root them in their genesis. The future is always cast in the shadow of the past.

Children of fire and children of water find origins unfathonable. They are entranced by kinesis rather than genesis. But for children of the earth, each moment is a new beginning and each beginning is a joy to behold. 

Magic is found in the particulars, whether escorting us on a hike through the rain forest in a downpour or showing us where the salmon spawn. All places have feelings, colours and shapes. They have height and depths of emotion; each place is a living bouquet. Moments are memories of simple happiness. If children of the air want moments to be eternal, if they desire to capture all of time in a single instant of ecstatic bliss, children of the earth appreciate the uniqueness of the singular. If children of fire love movement more than the moment, but unlike the chidren of water, are more concerned with different juxtaposed moments that illuminate one another rather than continuity, children of the earth will not allow sunrise’s noise to interrupt the hallowed ground of a moment of sheer joy. Children of the earth long to hold back time and make it less lonely rather than watch it rush forth to cascade over rapids and waterfalls or leap back and forth between memory and experience.

Daniel is a child of the earth because he is attached to a landscape, in his case, to the world of trees and rocks, sea shores and sprays, animals and birds. He is a child of the earth because he does not see the world as something you convert into a possession by your labours. He is not a possessive individualist, but a protective collectivist. The earth is something to be watched and observed and tended. Daniel will become rich, not because of what he wants to own, but because of what he wants to protect. He is not out to define space, but will allow space to define him. Daniel desires to give shape – not to space, but to emptiness – as God did in the beginning – to ensure the earth is full and abundant. When heaven meets earth, when the water and the land divide, there you will find the place where Daniel and Jessica will forge their lives together.

Jess is also a child of the earth. When she came to our island retreat for five days, she discovered a nest with two eggs and watched the chicks hatch and the mother feed her offspring. The first thing in the morning and throughout the day, Jess checked on their well-being, never interfering. Jessica, however, is a very different child of the earth than Daniel, more watchful, more delicate. She listens to the echoes in the silences more than filling the air with the gurgle of conversation.

Daniel is more akin to Jack, Jess’s father, with his eyes on the rocks and trees, while Jess is entranced by the filtered light that comes through the overhanging branches and leafy umbrella above. Though Jess is attracted to the artist’s light and shadow that reveals new forms and illuminates new meanings and discovers new patterns, her light is filtered, freckled and fragmented. Both Jess and Daniel will be dedicated to preventing earth from becoming a Martian arid surface where the atmosphere has disappeared or even the badlands of Alberta where Jack showed us a remnant of the jaw of a Tyrannosaurus Rex that he had found when he was twenty. He showed us the sockets where the teeth were and the impressions where the upper incisors sliced through flesh. Daniel shares with his father-in-law the love of detail of the historical record left in the crust of hollowed out rocks and bones to preserve the record of its history. The beautiful spoon Daniel made out of wood for his mother, the simple but very elegant and almost magically thin and polished wafer of wood that Jack proudly showed us that Daniel made for him and that he uses as his key holder, are both exquisite as well as useful artifacts.

Jess certainly has the skills of her own mother, Allain, and her new mother-in-law, Nancy, in making a meal into a work of art, a feast for the eyes and the soul. I, however, do not know Jess well enough to assert that she has Allain’s skills of divination, probably inherited from her Scottish background, for on Tuesday evening, Allain, with absolutely no foreknowledge, served us my favourite dessert, New York cheesecake, with a berry topping that, to use the well-worn cliché, was “to die for”.  Even the most famous restaurant on Broadway for cheesecake would have been envious. 

Children of the earth are artisans, not artists. Artisans, unlike artists, remind us that simulation is a perfect disguise. Artisans prefer revelation to masks, physical presence to harlequins. Unlike artists, they preserve rather than displace what they imitate. For the artisan, creativity is a way to commemorate origins. The old wood Daniel collects all have memories. For the artisan, a knitted pair of mittens is magical. Together, Daniel and Jess weave a tapestry of personal potency.

Daniel and Jess are on the verge of a path of lifelong happiness, but not one without its vicissitudes and challenges. With help and their own inborn capacities, they will relive the type of life that Jess’ grandparents did who remained lovebirds their entire lives.

A toast to two lovebirds.



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