THE DAY I MET ELIJAH
I wrote the first section of this piece after I received Dr. Michael Bieber’s solicitation for a free-write submission to the spring edition of the New Directions Journal. As the journal’s editor, he decided what prompt would activate a response from the diverse New Directions community. Now he will never read what “The day I met…” set off in me. Our dialogue was cut short in mid-sentence. With the exception of a brief email exchange, I did not have the privilege of getting to know him while he lived. I did not share a small group session or a workshop with him at New Directions. I did not talk with him over a meal at Stowe. When I learned of his suicide, I searched for an unconscious connection between my story and Michael’s—for a clue to the murderer and his murder.
My knowledge of the prophet Elijah is a similar composite of imagined contradictions. Elijah is the embodiment of compassion at the heart of centuries of folk stories in the Jewish tradition. He appears at the right moment of need. Often he disguises himself as a beggar, or his very presence is a test of the soul. At Passover, he travels the world, taking a sip of wine at every table in every Jewish household, a very tipsy prophet of the world to come. Elijah in the Bible forms a stark contrast to Elijah in myth.
In his life, Elijah was known for his vehemence, not for kindliness. He brought death and destruction to the worshipers of false gods. His anger, and the retribution he called down on Ahab and Jezebel, forced him to flee for his life. He spent years in hiding, fed by ravens. When he reached the end of his days, he departed the world of 2nd Kings in a fiery chariot, leaving no gravesite. Thus, legend holds, he was free to wander the earth, to enter the hearts of generations in misery, and to strengthen the hands of those who help others.
How can any of us understand the particularities of Michael’s choice to depart in a fiery chariot of his own suffering? Why was he unable to open himself to consolation, even if it was clothed in fear? At best, he left those who loved him with his secrets untold. At worst, he left horror. His cowardly impulse cannot be reversed, and neither can his rage. Those of us who survived this attack while sharing life with him struggle to find courage in remembering his life, and its goodness.
Once, Elijah was human. Now his stories strengthen our souls. Going forward we will search for Michael’s spirit within ourselves, kept alive through imagination, attention to grief, and its solace.