When I told my youngest child that my mother had died, she said, “But she was supposed to get better!”
A week or so later, when I was talking to my father about talking to an old friend, he asked, “Was he surprised to hear it?” “Not really,” I told him. My father sighed. “I suppose I was the only one taken by surprise, then.”
And I wondered, was I the only one not lost in denial while she was dying?
Except, of course, I was as lost as the rest of us. A week before she died, I was at a wedding, dancing and drinking and laughing. My friends commented afterward on what a good time I seemed to have had, never noticing that this was me, shouting into the wind; this was me, raging against the dying of the light; this was me, living defiantly in the face of death:
“You know, she’s dying.” “I know. Shut up. I’m going to dance.”
While accompanying Elijah on his farewell tour, Elisha found that his denial came under challenge everywhere he went.
They kept asking him, “You know he’s as good as gone, right?” and Elisha said,”I know. Shut up. I’m going over there.”
Obstinately loyal, stubbornly loving, Elisha would not leave Elijah’s side. Elijah asked him, in so many words, “What do you need in order to let me go?”
“Give me yourself to hold onto, so that I will always remember what this feels like, to be with you,” Elisha might as well have replied.
And when Elijah was gone, he tore his clothes.
Perhaps that is why this mountaintop mystery is one of the few gospel stories in which Jesus tells people not to talk about a sign or a wonder that has surrounded him with revealed glory, and they actually obey. The disciples do not tell what they have seen on the mountaintop, because telling it means letting Jesus go, letting him go to Jerusalem, letting him go to his death.
Because they did not want to lose this feeling, of being close to him, being in his presence:
“I know. Shut up. I want to build a booth.” –
and they did not yet know about his unreasonable and irrepressible love for them, for all of them, which meant that he would return to his friends and to his Father, and to us, even from the grave.