Today is Purim, a Jewish holiday marked by boisterous silliness, costumes and topsy-turvy frivolity. It is yet another holiday about using whatever skills and resources we have to survive, even if it means turning ourselves upside down.
The characters in the Purim story are familiar universal archetypes: the king, the king's defiant first wife, his beautiful and clever second wife, Queen Esther; his two advisors–one good and one evil. The celebration of Purim usually includes the reading of the book of Esther (retelling the story), during which it is customary to scream and shake noisemakers when the name of the evil advisor (Haman) is said aloud. Often there is a carnival or performance, gifts are exchanged, and of course the requisite festive meal, which includes hamentaschen, sweet pastries in the shape of a triangle (which is said to have been the shape of Haman's hat).
What a concept–eating our enemies, devouring our demons. And what about the idea of seeing ourselves as royalty? Maybe we can reclaim our inner king, queen, prince or princess. Imagine that your throne has already been prepared for you. Your crown and gown have been perfectly tailored to fit you with precision and majesty.
(this is a real photo from an actual game/program I saw in a bookstore)
In addition to the celebratory customs, there are also reverent ones, including the Fast of Esther and the additional liturgy of Al haNissim ("for the miracles") prayers. This liturgy basically expresses gratitude for the courage, the triumphs and the miraculous redemption of our ancestors, in those days and in our time.
So what's the upside down part? What does it feel like to celebrate a holiday with the customs of noisy storytelling and raucous celebration on the one hand, and then fasting and prayers of gratitude and redemption on the other hand?
Surviving despite the odds is rarely simple, and the journey is often confusing, surprising and disorienting.
Even at this very moment, instead of celebrating Purim with my community, I am literally turned upside down on my living room floor. I strained my muscles in a yoga class, and I am alternating heat and cold, movement and stillness. In any given moment I might feel limber or clenched, tense or relaxed.
So here is my upside down Purim celebration this year: When I have a supple moment, I give thanks —al ha'Nissim—for the miracles. Instead of hamentaschen, I'm having baked stuffed apples; instead of raucous revelry, I'm relishing the quiet stillness.
Gratitude, sweetness, survival, miracles. May it be so.