Recently, with the brutal honesty of one who hasn’t yet learned to fib and the unwavering trust of one for whom the whole world is still the stuff of magic, you told me to expect a special guest at our holiday table. No question, Elijah, the great Jewish tooth fairy, was coming to Pesach dinner.
And despite my feeling like maybe it’s more the thought that counts – that maybe (probably) the story of this never-dead prophet who foretells messianic redemption is a whole lot of metaphor and very little hard fact – I believed you. Not humored you. Believed you, mind.
This is roughly how it went down.
It was bath time which, in our house, doubles as story time. Each evening, I sit, perched tub side, with book in hand. The other night, it was a children’s story about a family who’s expecting company. They’re hosting a Passover seder, and they’re setting a table full of prayer books and traditional foods arranged just so on a seder plate. Family and friends arrive. They say the ritual blessings. At the end of the meal, the dad in the story pours a symbolic cup of wine for Elijah, the prophet-figurehead who, to simplify radically, is to usher in a new era. Storybook dad proceeds to the front door and opens it, an act to signal the letting in of the prophet (and/or, as my liberal Jewish sentiment holds, the future…a reminder that, amidst a whole lot of reflecting back on the places we’ve been, we ought to consider where we’re going and how we intend to get there.) But, when dad opens the door, he lets in not the prophet but the family’s own indoor-outdoor cat. All the little children hoot and holler. That’s not Elijah! Then they eat some dessert.
I mused out loud, “Do you think he’ll drink our wine and come to our seder, Elbee?”
You didn’t answer. Not right away. You were busy palpating the gills of a rubber fish. A full five minutes passed before you replied, “Yes.”
“Yes, what?” I asked. I’d forgotten my own question.
“Elijah come!” you squealed.
“What?!” I heard you, but I wanted to be sure. It was akin to saying you saw dead people. Except not dead. Never dead.
“Elijah drink wine!”
“Yeah with us! Elijah drink it! Yum!”
Matter-of-fact, like “grass is green.” Elijah drink it. Yum.
My daughter the seer? Unlikely.
My daughter the visionary? No doubt. You never fail to see what your grown-ups miss.
For though I trust that your father and I will be literally to thank for the dearth of drink at the close of our seder, I have no doubt you’re right: Elijah’s coming to dinner. The hope he stands for lives in us, lives in you: an ordinary-extraordinary little person with big insight.
I know it not because my world is still the stuff of magic but because it isn’t – and because, sometimes, hope is all we have. If you ain’t got the hope, you ain’t got nothin’. And you’re it. You’re proof. You’re a kid nature said shouldn’t have been but Science + Something Bigger Than Myself (the something some people call G-d and other people call Allah and other people call Pasta) said, “That’s just bullshit,” and so you were. The future’s you, kid… a mystery-trip of human life unfolding right before my very eyes.
Elijah’s coming to dinner.
This year in Jerusalem!