Eliyahu was the name of my father’s father. I am named for him. He was named after God’s favorite prophet, Eliyahu, known in English as Elijah the Prophet. We were named for the humble, supremely loyal prophet whose name means, as Wikipedia teaches: Elijah: אֱלִיָּהוּ, Eliyahu, meaning “My God is Yahu/Jah.” Wikipedia also teaches that it is said of that when dogs are happy for no reason, it is because Eliyahu is in the neighborhood. Eliyahu is generally associated with reverence, hope and love.
If you go far enough back in our uprooted family tree people actually believed that righteous men like Eliyahu were so loved by the omniscient, omnipotent Creator that He chose to converse with them, have them convey His wishes to humans. The prophet Eliyahu was apparently God’s most beloved, although his namesake, my unlucky grandfather, a poor and meek man all his life, died at fifty-five of liver failure though he never drank alcohol.
“Well, my father was an unlucky man, no question. In the bigger picture, though, this takes us back to Harari’s book Sapiens. Our troubled, violent, insane species has believed any number of remarkable and awesome things to make sense of life in a terrifying world,” said the skeleton.
John Lennon called God a concept, by which we measure our pain.
“John was a clever bastard,” said the skeleton.
There is irony — and I know, I know, where is there not irony?– in your father having that name, and in my being named after that father, by a man who quickly came to regard his baby son as an implacable adversary, both named for a prophet whose mission, in preparing humanity for the coming of the Messiah, is to return the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, as it is written, in Malachi 4:5-6:
“Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the LORD. He will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers, so that I will not come and smite the land with a curse.”
“That’s our Lord,” said the skeleton, “do this so I will not have to come down there and smite the land with a fucking curse. My favorite is when he threatens the disobedient that they will eat their own children if they continue to disobey Him. He sticks that in the middle of a long, long list of blood curdling curses that He will bring down upon those who do not believe in His infinite love and mercy.
“But, look, this is all well and good, and ironic, sure, irony is the most plentiful element in the universe, certainly the Jewish universe, but the fact is– you were an implacable adversary. That’s my fault, I realized about 47 years too late, but my understanding of such things was limited, unfortunately. I was raised by an implacable enemy myself, as you know. I’m talking about my mother, olav hashalem (may she rest in peace).
“My father was a nonentity, a self-erasing man who just didn’t want to be beaten up any more. I have no idea what he ever thought about anything, he was mostly silent, though when he spoke, as I recall it surprised you to learn, it was without a trace of a Yiddish accent.
“Would he have returned the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers if he could have? The jury will have to remain out on that one. I will say that you, personally, seem to take this crucial mission seriously, even if it is manifestly impossible in our world of fear and hatred, and the genius moral justifications for why we are right to fear and hate.”
Hmmmm. Well, I can make use of all that somehow. As Nike says, or maybe it’s Adidas: Impossible is Nothing. Fuck impossible, dad. I’m going for the impossible.
“Clearly you are,” said the skeleton, “that’s my boy. But look, Elie, everything that cannot be imagined is impossible — until it is imagined and articulated, and that previously unimaginable leap is taken. I’m not talking about supernatural belief systems, I’m talking about all human progress. It all starts when the unimaginably is imagined.
“We have a language that is capable of communicating virtually anything we can imagine, plus tools like drawing to show things we are unable to fully describe. The universe inside a human imagination is virtually without limits. But we use only a tiny fraction of our minds, only a sliver of our stunted imaginations.
“Look, by all means, use the concept of Eliyahu, friend of the poor, righteous man, servant of God’s benevolence, if it helps you. This conversation we’re having now, much as I came to wish we could have had many like it while I was alive, look, we both realize this is all in your head now.
“But there’s something larger here– you are moving toward understanding something most people cannot even imagine exists. There may be a way to forgive someone who has brutalized you and draw out their deeper humanity, see beyond the pain they inflicted to their actual heart of hearts, access the great love they have hidden, even from themselves, if it is important enough to you.
“I’m not talking about friends who cross a line and become toxic. You just have to get away from those people. But if your parent has poisoned part of your life, well, nobody can really help you with that but yourself. I commend you, and by doing that, of course, you commend yourself, for grappling with this seemingly impossible thing.”
I suddenly saw my grandfather’s face, which I recognized from the two photos I have of him. It was a mysterious, mischievous face that betrayed nothing. It was truly, as Eli said, two eyes, a nose and a mouth. He turned to me.
“You’re imagining all this,” he said, with only the faintest hint of a smile.