Sometimes I imagine myself as the subject of a Passover parable.
“Look, mommy, up in the sky! Is that a bird? Is that a plane? Is that…Wonder Woman? Wait, no, what is that actually?” the girl asked. She squinted her eyes, and her golden curls bounced when she stood on her tippy toes to get a better view.
I wanted people to see me. I waved at the little girl from above.
The woman next to her remarked, “Oh, sweety, that’s Middle-Aged Woman, the most powerful superhero of them all.”
“But what is she doing?” the girl asked, plaintively. “And what are those things, flapping in the wind? Are those her wings?”
“Ahh, she migrates out of Egypt every Passover. And no, dear, those are her breasts.”
“But, but, why are they so saggy?”
“The weight of the world and giving nourishment to others has brought them down. The flatness also helps with the aerodynamics of flight,” the mother answered, gently putting her hand on the girl’s shoulder.
Suddenly, the child looked up. She looked this way and that. “Where did she go, mommy?”
“Oh, dear, she either flew away or put on her Invisibility Schmatte.”
“Invisibility Schmatte? Is that like Wonder Woman’s invisible airplane?” the girl asked.
“Sort of, only a bit more nuanced. You see, due to the rampant sexism and ageism in our world, women of a certain age are often overlooked in the workplace, and when they walk into stores or other places, they’re often rendered ‘invisible,’”
“Huh?” the girl asked, tilting her head to the side. Her mother looked off into the distance, hoping that her daughter would not experience what she had. .
“Why does she fly on Passover?” the girl asked, now pulling down her curls one by one and feeling them spring back up.
The mother leaned down to be closer. She took in the sweet smell of innocence and continued.
“Well, it is an annual migration she takes, just like we do at our Seder. She commemorates her own personal exodus.”
“Exodus from what?”
“From her forty-year battle of inner-persecution.”
Indeed, there were many episodes of struggle and adventure in this superhero’s life.
I am forty-five now. At forty, I started to become less self-conscious. I started feeling less stuck in the issues of my childhood. I had been abused, chronically depressed, and hospitalized for a year and a half as an adolescent, and again, a lot in my twenties. I was the daughter of an immigrant Holocaust-survivor. I was unsure about my sexuality. I felt less than others. I was surprised when people actually talked to me and related to me as a normal human being.
But somehow, now, in my forties, I realize that we are all muddling through, that everyone has secrets. Instead of keeping my most recent hospitalization, about four years ago, as a painful secret, I wrote an article that appeared in the Washington Post about what it was like to be a clinician that was hospitalized. I started owning my own life. I felt as strong as a superhero.
In my parable, the woman explained to her daughter: “Her Egypt, her ‘Mitzrayim’ or ‘constricting place,’ was feeling enslaved by her own low self-esteem–never feeling like she could truly be herself or like she belonged in this world.”
The mother cupped her hand, leaned to her daughter’s ear, and whispered: “Until she got her secret powers.”
“Ooh, what are her powers?” the girl asked, her eyes lighting up.
“Ahh, she had been wandering in her desert of malcontent for forty years. She was tired, and the desert was so hot that she was schvitzing like you wouldn’t believe. And there were only so many things she could make with matzo to eat.
But just when she thought she thought she was totally lost, a miraculous wind swooped her up in the air. She was able to fly above the hatred, above her feelings of inadequacy.
The woman took a deep breath, raised her brow, and noted, “People over forty, dear, have a special birds-eye view of the world because they’ve been through so much more than you and I.”
“I want secret powers. How did she get her powers?” the girl asked earnestly.
“She got hers thorough the miracles of her own fortitude, others’ support, strong psychotropic medications, and therapy. If you’re lucky, you will become a Middle Aged Woman superhero too one day.”
“But, mommy, if it was so bad, why would she want to fly back to Mitzrayim every year?”
“Ahh, that is a good question, my child. She, like Jacob’s descendants, became used to exile, to the time of her life when she was svelte and suffering. Bad experiences can draw you in. Even though she knows she is in a better place, there is always something alluring about the Mitzrayims of our lives.”
Ready to be visible again. I smiled and took off my schmatte. I waved to the girl and her mother, soared forward a few miles, and now I am down to earth.
Ok, so I’m not really a superhero, no more than all of us over forty are, but sometimes it is important to acknowledge how strong we really are in midlife. So I own my wrinkles, and I know that I earned my grey hairs. And, as I sit down to a Seder with my wife, children, and parents, I realize how important it is for all of us to acknowledge the hard work and miracles it took for us to be liberated from the bitterness of past experiences by which we were enslaved.