This morning my husband told me that my birthday is 10 days overdue, my Hebrew birthday, that is.
My birthday, according to the Gregorian calendar, however, falls this coming week-end. I have 2 birthday dates, and yet, I don’t give a fig for birthdays. Is it because I am sick of helping my daughter write these, once funny, birthday cards to her friends, like: I wish you lots of flowers, sweeties and that you succeed in your studies (cynic me); is it because I shun a commercial practice that will drain resources I could allot to spiritual endeavors (stingy or self-righteous or plain phony me); or is it the more banal fear of growing old (vain me)? It’s not the first time I ask myself these questions but so far no hiddush [novel idea], except that I notice how disagreeable I can sound. Time for a change. And a birthday, like New Year’s celebrations, secular or religious, is at least a sacred time to reflect on the year that’s gone and project oneself into the coming year. I used to smirk at people who celebrate half birthdays; this year, I choose to give my own birthday a chance.
What’s in a Name?
What’s in a birthday? By a strange attractor turn of chance or providence, this question has become for me this year: what’s in a name, in this instance, the name I was given at birth? Yes, my name, Michal. How I used to loath this name! In France, it was never Michal pronounced with the [x ]sound but Miral, Mikral, Mishal. Not their fault, I know, but who was that? It always took me a while to realize that someone was addressing me. It did not sound right. How strange to feel a stranger in your own land, especially when you lived in France for some 20 years! My sisters all had European names, though they were also born in Israel. What’s gotten into my mother to give me a Hebrew name? As the story goes, in the maternity ward, she met a university lecturer, who was having her first child at 40, advising her [ I am her second] on the odious name; and impressionable maman, with all due respect, could not see passed the end of her nose, like moving back to France some 4 years later, sealing my fate. I am only glad to have escaped the bible humanist tell my mother to call me Zerubbabella, adding an “a” at the end as mark of the feminine or Methuselah [I know: men’s name but the fashion now in Israel is to give names of flowers to boys and virile names (of veg?) to girls interchangeably;… so, in the 70s?], or any other cheesy name. The bright side of life, hey!
It is as a pre-adolescent, as I was presenting myself to my new class, first day after moving from suburb to Paris during mid-term, that Mr Gaston, our math teacher, christened me Miral: “we are in France here” and dare you pronounce it Mi[x]al! Can shame explain average results in math, when I used to be first at it before? I don’t know. What is sure is that by that time, I was ready to take any old fashioned name, Hugette, Arlette, Desiree, Oh oui, Odette, like Proust’s duplicitous female hero. In Israel, new immigrants who have a European, non-Israeli sounding name are advised, though less nowadays, to change their first or/and last name upon arrival, for integration purposes. Why didn’t maman change my first name when we got back to France?
It is only during Gorbachev’s Perestroika that I, somewhat, reconciled with my name, glasnost oblige. Mikhail, I’ll be forever indebted to you and your parents for calling you Mikhail. However, after getting married and years of childlessness, the biblical name, Michal, came full blast to mind with its limiting connotations: some lessons to be learnt…and learnt.
So What’s in a Name?
So what’s in a name?… Love, my mother’s love (and father’s, a typical enneagram 8, who followed suit this once), who had for me the brightest of futures in mind as a free woman, educated, independent master of her own destiny, like the university lecturer was; what maman could never fathom for herself then and hardly can still today. Hiddush. It is only at 42 that I get it. What’s in a name? : the pride of a mother, her generosity and expansiveness, the assurance and conviction that I haven’t been a disappointment to her, in spite of my frequent disappointments in myself.
So What’s in a Birthday?
I am not what happened to me, I am what I choose to become.”
Michal, in Hebrew, means container/vessel, or close. What is a container?: a receptacle, of a certain capacity, for goods, sustenance, resources. It is receptive (kabbalah), a servant, in service. The root of this name in Hebrew exhausts the semantic field of nourishment (content).
From cupped hands, through a cauldron, to a well, available resources can be used at will, provided they haven’t been depleted or ignored and given the time to replenish. The letter mem, at the beginning of ‘Michal’, grammatically in Hebrew, is the mark of process, of becoming. Thanks to this dialectic between the old and the new, fate and destiny, container/content, myth/rite, I am consciously and fondly looking forward to my unfolding this coming year. Happy birthday to me. Happy birthday to my mother-in-law today, happy birthday to my brother, tomorrow.
Today’s Fool’s Message
The Vitality of Myth
He said myths and mythology wasn’t to give meaning to life but to give us an experience of life, an experience of vitality in being alive. ~Joseph Campbell
Myths are public dreams; dreams are private myths. By finding your own dream and following it through, it will lead you to the myth-world in which you live. But just as in dream, the subject and object, though they seem to be separate, are really the same. ~Joseph Campbell