Noah’s Ark Room

May 10, 2005 | 29 comments
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Noah's Ark, by Ronny Tabeka

We call one of our bedrooms the Noah’s Ark Room because there’s a mural of Noah’s Ark on the wall. It was painted by our house’s previous owner for his son Noah, who lived in this bedroom from his birth until we purchased the townhouse in 2001 and he and his parents moved to a home nearby.

We met the previous owners by chance. In the late spring of my last semester of law school, we spent a few days looking for housing near DC, where I’d taken a job. As we were leaving an open house with our agent, a man waved us down and asked us if we’d like to see his home that would be listed for sale later that week. Because the housing market was white hot — properties were selling above asking price within days — we welcomed the chance to see it early.

He introduced himself as Ronny Tabeka, shook our hands, and proudly showed us through the house he’d upgraded and improved. When I stopped to look at a painting hanging near the stairs, one of ten or so they had displayed, he explained that he was an amateur artist. In the second bedroom upstairs there was a picture of Noah’s Ark, painted directly onto the drywall. Ronny said he’d painted it for their only child, Noah, who was born the year after they moved into the house. The city in the background was Israel, where Ronny and his wife Hannah were from. Ronny said the picture meant so much to him he was considering cutting it from the wall and taking it with him — but he promised that if he removed it he’d have the wall restored perfectly. We told him that either way was fine with us.

That evening our agent placed an offer on the house as we travelled back to Boston; the Tabekas accepted. I didn’t see them again for a couple of months, until we met at the title company’s office for the closing. As I signed my name to countless documents, Ronny told me of some of the little things he’d done to the house, which keys went to which locks, and so on. He said that he’d seriously considered taking the Noah’s Ark mural, but because he’d have to cut the studs out of the wall, and wasn’t sure how he could display it, he decided that no matter how much it meant to him, he couldn’t take it: we should just paint over it. I told him that we planned to use the bedroom as a kids room, so we might leave it there and just paint around it. His eyes lit up, hopeful that his work would be spared and pleased that I liked it.

When I saw Ronny again about a year later, he was delighted to learn that we hadn’t painted over his picture. It remained, alive, appreciated. He liked too that we called the room the Noah’s Ark Room. I think that was the last time I saw Ronny, though my wife occasionally saw Hannah or Noah at the elementary school.

Today our son Jefferson brought home a letter from the school principal:

May 10, 2005

Dear Candlewood School Families:

It is with great sadness that I inform you of the death of Noah Tabeka, one of our fourth grade students. Noah had been experiencing difficulties breathing over the past couple of days, and was not in school this morning when he stopped breathing and died suddenly . . .

That’s all I know; no other details were given. The format was disconcerting — black copy toner on white paper, just like letters about lunchroom policies, midterm grades, and the start of the BoxTops for Education fundraising campaign. My wife’s and my first thought was about the mural, it was our single connection to Noah. We wondered whether we should cut the mural down and give it to Ronny and Hannah — would they want it? What would they do with it? How should we offer it to them?

I don’t know if I ever met Noah. My wife would remember, but she’s sleeping now. But I do remember Ronny, and tonight, as I looked at the mural, I tried to see it through his eyes. What thoughts danced through his mind as he painted it? Did he wonder which animals Noah would like best? Did he tell the story of Noah’s Ark, picturing he and Noah admiring his art from the bed? Did he prepare silly asides that would make Noah laugh? Maybe he heard Noah asking him to retell the story, one more time, as he went to bed, or heard him ask for a nightlight, so he could see the animals as he fell asleep.

I can only guess what Ronny thought or felt; I consider the thoughts that might have gone through my head, were I painting a large picture of Noah’s Ark for a son I would name Noah. Though I don’t know what Ronny imagined, I’m painfully certain he didn’t imagine that on May 10, 2005, the children of Candlewood Elementary would take home letters saying that Noah Tabeka, one of the fourth graders, had died suddenly that morning.

Like Ronny, I’ve painted the Noah’s Ark Room ceiling and walls, sparing only the piece of bible; like Ronny did for Noah, I’ve painted pictures for each of my new babies; and on March 8, 2002, I brought a new baby to sleep under the watchful eyes of Noah and his animals, as Ronny had.

Yesterday I would have told you that this summer, sometime in July, I will bring our new baby twin girls to this room, a painting of Dad’s for each of them, where they will sleep beneath and enjoy a father’s gift for his baby Noah.

Today, though, I remember that a father’s plans for his children aren’t certain.

Noah's Ark, by Ronny Tabeka

Noah's Ark Room, May 10, 2005

29 Responses to Noah’s Ark Room

  1. Jim F on May 11, 2005 at 1:53 am

    Thank you, Matt.

  2. danithew on May 11, 2005 at 6:27 am

    Matt, that’s a beautiful post and it is a beautiful painting. Thank you for sharing this experience that you have had and your special feelings for these grieving parents. May the Lord bless you in reaching out to them if you feel guided in that direction.

  3. danithew on May 11, 2005 at 8:35 am

    I should have said sad post and beautiful painting. I’m a bit sleep-deprived and addled as a result.

  4. Stephen M (Ethesis) on May 11, 2005 at 9:13 am

    I can only guess what Ronny thought or felt; I imagine the thoughts that may have gone through my head, were I painting a large picture of Noah?s Ark for a son I would name Noah. Though I don?t know what Ronny imagined, I?m painfully certain he didn?t think that on May 10, 2005, the children of Candlewood Elementary would take home letters saying that Noah Tabeka, one of the fourth graders, had died suddenly that morning. Indeed, that is the last thing any parent plans for or expects.

  5. Ryan Bell on May 11, 2005 at 11:06 am

    Matt, there’s got to be a way to get the painting to him. My guess is that it would become a priceless treasure to him. Of course, it’s impossible to guess what kind of time and expense that would require. Still, it’s a great impulse you’ve had, and it might be worth at least checking out its feasibility. I wish I had some expertise in such matters. Now i’m cursing myself for not having taken that drywall art removal course a few years ago.

    The painting is beautiful, by the way, in exactly the right tone and style for a little boy named Noah. Thanks for sharing.

  6. Johnna Cornett on May 11, 2005 at 11:40 am

    Matt, an exquisite post…

    But I am not a sure Ronny would now want the painting cut from your wall. To remove it from the life it has gone on to have in your family, to take it out its context into what?

    It seems a good commercial photographer could take an image and have it made into a glicee print or prints. Perhaps there is some context, where Noah is remembered, where such posters would have context, and the image would go on, even after you sold your home and the painting passed out of your care.

  7. Rosalynde Welch on May 11, 2005 at 1:57 pm

    Thank you, Matt, for such a moving–and sobering–post. There’s something so unsettling about the lack of detail about the death in the letter you describe. Noah’s death was a very specific event that will change a few people’s worlds forever, but it’s described so sparsely that it feels like an open, live possibility for any parent.

  8. Floyd the Wonderdog on May 11, 2005 at 2:05 pm

    This one strikes close to home. When we moved into our home, the room that was to be my son’s had teddy bears on the walls. I told him that we would paint the room if he wanted. He said no. Then with a wink and a knowing nod, I told him we could paint a mural on the wall. This piqued his artistic tendencies and he began drawing and painting on his walls. Super heroes, X-Men, Calvin and Hobbs, and other comic characters.

    We’ve kept them intact for the five years after his passing. We discussed it and decided that the best way to take them with us is to have a photographer take pictures of them and make posters. That would be my recommendation. The parents will be touched by your thoughtful gift.

  9. Stephen M (Ethesis) on May 11, 2005 at 9:17 pm

    My wife said that he would probably very, very, very much appreciate the picture.

    It is pretty easy to tape and bed some wallboard — fixing the spot you take out should cost around $10-$15.00. I’ll send you twenty if you need it — and my wife does it fairly quickly.

    But yes, it was a wonderful thought to take it down (I’d find something to mount it on when you remove it) and give it to the parents, after contacting them first so they are ready to receive it.

    Good quality photographs that are posterized is a good idea too — and easier to deal with. I’ll donate to that cause as well.

  10. Silus Grok on May 11, 2005 at 9:20 pm

    A couple points… first, removing it may be feasible. I would contact a local home restoration agency. They would encounter murals in homes that needed to be removed for various reasons, and may have suggestions on how to proceed.

    Second: if you do proceed, and need help with the costs, I’d be happy to throw in a little… and I guess others, here, would too. Just let us know.

    Third: if you choose to go forward with it, I would suggest waiting, and giving them time to grieve a little. I’m not sure why I feel this way, but it just feels like solid advice.

    Finally: if it’s too expensive to tear out, you may want to consider taking a (very) high res photo of it and reproducing it as a print for the family.

  11. Renee on May 11, 2005 at 9:39 pm

    The thing is, death changes more worlds than we know. Who is to say what role little Noah would have played in the world of the future. Each step we take is history in the making.

    Beautiful story and I agree with those who said to have a photographer take a picture. A good picture could be printed and framed and given to them. What a story for all your children to hear and be part of.

  12. Michele on May 11, 2005 at 10:39 pm

    Ronny is a very special men…we are all devastated.
    If the painting is done on drywal, it is possible to cut off a piece of drywall depending on how it is secure to the studds. I can give you the name of a drywall person. I will help with the cost.
    Ronny hads tutored both my daughters for their Bat Mitzva and was their Hebrew teacher in forth grade.We all just adore him and the pain is unbearable.
    I would love to do something meaningful for him and this sems to be it.
    Please let me know.
    thanks

  13. Adam Greenwood on May 12, 2005 at 11:36 am

    I’d like to help with the costs too.

    If you do remove the painting, you ought not to just paint over the new drywall to match the old, as if Noah Tabeka and his painting had never been. You could try your own painting or even just paint the square a different color, to mark the loss. You might even consult with his parents. The father might be willing, even eagar, to come over and paint some tribute to his son in that space. But that would be gravy and certainly isn’t necessary.

  14. Adam Greenwood on May 12, 2005 at 11:37 am

    Also, going to the trouble of removing the painting and preserving it for them would be extraordinarily magnanimous. Knowing you cared will matter a lot to the parents, as will the knowledge that not everything related to him has slipped out of their control, eventually to be lost.

  15. J. Mait on May 12, 2005 at 8:19 pm

    Ronny began tutoring my son last fall for his Bar Mitzvah in October. When Ronny called me on Wednesday, he provided details about Noah’s final moments but little more information about the reason for his passing than was provided in the school letter. Ronny has always impressed me with his easygoing nature and how he guides my son with a gentle but strong hand. He impressed me further when, in the midst of his grief, he was concerned for my own son and his Bar Mitzvah. It pains me to know that, as fine a tutor as Ronny is, he will never experience the joy of training his own son.

    Thank you Matt for your posting. Take a picture of the mural and leave the original as a reminder of how bittersweet parenting is.

  16. Alden Dima on May 12, 2005 at 8:43 pm

    Dear Matt,

    My son is also a fourth grader at Candlewood. My wife received the tragic news at the bus stop; the children were crying when they got off of the bus. I know that Noah’s classmates are devasted; upon hearing the news, one boy banged his head on his desk to try to awaken himself from the nightmare.

    My suggestion is that either the original painting or a large photograph of it should be given to the school for display. I think that the suddeness of his death really traumatized the children; having a public memorial at school will go a long way towards helping them heal over the course of time. Every child needs to know that s/he is important; we adults need to show them that they will not easily be forgotten and just summarized as a photocopier handout.

    I will help you as I can; please let me know.

  17. JKS on May 12, 2005 at 8:53 pm

    I’d go for the taking the picture and making a great quality poster print, framed. I think keeping the original on the wall is an equal tribute. Keep it up forever. And if you sell the house, ask the buyers that if they want to keep it or you’ll remove it. If they want to keep it, then leave a copy of this post with them when you leave, and ask them if they ever decide they want to paint over it, that maybe they should contact the parents to see if they would like to remove it.
    Although, now that I think about it, maybe removing it and giving it to them would be so much greater. But, I think, give it a little time. I think it would be a gift appreciated more a little down the road. Right now they have so many of his things….some of which they will have to consider getting rid of.

  18. Tami Kiley on May 13, 2005 at 4:48 pm

    Thank you Matt for sharing this beautiful story. Very poignant. We’ve just come from Noah’s funeral, a very sad day. Noah Tabeka was a friend of my son’s. He was a very special boy who will be missed terribly by many. I feel as if I just got a wonderful peek into Noah’s early years and how much he meant to his very loving parents.

  19. chip berman on May 13, 2005 at 9:54 pm

    Dear Matt,
    There are so very few words that we are able to summon to express ourselves at times like this, other than to say that Noah lived a very, very special life. His was a gift of joy and caring unusual in a boy so young. He was indeed an ‘old’ soul who brightened our lives, if only for a short time. I will never forget him.

    Matt, If you would like to share the image of Noah’s Arc, Tami (see 18) and I would be happy to print the mural on our large format printer for no charge at bigbannerstore if you take a hi-res photo (or have it done) and forward it to us (i can always be reached at the outta the way cafe).

    God Bless you and keep you close, Noah!

  20. Matt Evans on May 13, 2005 at 11:53 pm

    Thank you everyone for your concern for the Tabekas and your willingness to help them in their unfathomable sorrow. They called me on Thursday to say they had found this post and that it meant so much to them to know that the Noah’s Ark mural remained. (Apparently I had remembered the history wrong — I hadn’t seen them since the house closing, so they didn’t know that we had in fact spared Ronny’s beautiful painting.) I offered to remove the mural from the wall and give it to them but they said they would prefer a print.

    The principal of Candlewood Elementary is working with us to have a print made. A professional photographer came to take pictures this morning. Thank you Chip for your offer to help us make a high-quality print, we may take you up on it.

    At Noah’s funeral today there was an agonizingly poignant photograph of Ronny beaming as he held newborn Noah in front of the Noah’s Ark mural. It was painful to look at, to see how happy Ronny was.

  21. Sandy Bowman on May 14, 2005 at 3:48 am

    Thank you Matt for sharing your very moving story! I am a grandmother of one of Noah’s friends. I met Noah at one of my grandson’s birthday parties. He struck me as such a very gentle caring soul, and I was impressed with him immediately. He will be sadly missed by everyone who ever met him!

    My prayers and tears are for his parents first, who can only be devasted at the sudden loss of their dear boy! Also for all of his friends and their parents who are also grieving so deeply. This will never be easily understood or accepted.

    May God comfort and bless all of you, and give you peace at this most difficult time.

  22. Ronny & Hannah Tabeka on May 14, 2005 at 1:25 pm

    This is Ronny and Hannah – we are Noah’s parents. We want to express to you how extremely grateful we are for your words of comfort, the response of the community, and the heartfelt support we have received these last few days. We would not have been able to make it through these last days without your overwhelming support and love.

    We have set up a photo album on Yahoo with some of our family pictures with Noah. You can access it through the link listed below:

    http://photos.yahoo.com/s2goel

    We would also like to give you the link to the online Guest Book at The Washington Post website:

    http://www.legacy.com/washingtonpost/Guestbook.asp?Page=Guestbook&PersonID=3530025

    Thank you very much for all your support
    Much Love
    Hannah, Ronny and Noah

  23. Adam Greenwood on May 14, 2005 at 7:12 pm

    Dear Tabekas,
    My own daughter died two months ago (see here: http://www.timesandseasons.org/index.php?p=2235 ), so my heart goes out to you. God bless you. It was comforting in some ways to read your story and see the bright painting that your son once enjoyed. Thank you.

  24. Linda on May 16, 2005 at 2:13 pm

    Randy told me about the story. It’s beautiful. Let us know when you have names picked out for the girls.

  25. steve klitzman on May 16, 2005 at 2:23 pm

    Matt–

    Thank you for taking the time to compose and post such a moving, personal e-mail. It moved me to cry and I know it will mean much to Ronny and Hannah Tabeka and their many grieving freinds and family members.

    Steve Klitzman
    Bethesda, Md.

  26. Sigi Ben-Lulu on May 22, 2005 at 5:21 am

    Rony & Hanna, my very dear cousins.

    My heart is with you from afar.
    All the words in the world won’t be enought to comfort you for your great loss.

    We remember the emotional meeting with Noah here in Israel last year…

    May GOD comfort you and give you the strength to pull through in spite of the great gap left in your life.

    Sigi.

  27. Laura Pressman-McNamara on May 24, 2005 at 1:00 am

    As one of Hannah’s closest friends, practically a sister, this tribute to the mural, to Ronny and to Noah is a beautiful thing. I know, having stood by Hannah after the funeral, that she quoted parts of the letter to me, obviously with tears in her eyes. I remember Noah since practically the day he was born and he was a most special child/person; his memories are throughout my house, as my son Ethan watches a Sesame Street video Noah hand selected to give to baby Ethan. In this e-mail age, it is somewhat comforting to know that in cyberspace he is throughout so many peoples lives. Thank you.

  28. webmaster@templesinaidc.org on June 1, 2005 at 8:13 pm

    Matt –

    Thanks for granting us permission to post a copy on http://templesinaidc.org/community/noah

    It’s a moving tribute.

    Tony Ciccone

  29. Hannah and Ronny Tabeka on June 9, 2005 at 4:47 pm

    The Evans and Mr. Sklarew (the Principal of Candlewood ES), with the help of Blanton Studios (the School’s photographer), hand delivered to us, the most beautiful framed print of the Noah’s Ark mural. We admire it everyday and lovingly remember our son, Noah.

    We feel so incredibly blessed to be part of the wonderful Candlewood community, and our amazing Temple Sinai community. We thank you for all your kindness, love and support. We have gotten much strength from you.

    With heartfelt thanks – we will be forever grateful to you all -

    Hannah and Ronny Tabeka