It would be grandiose and pompous to say I was destined to write this blog from the day I was born. But I will say there may be a connection.
Paraphrasing Mark Twain… The older I get, the smarter I realize my parents are. I think they knew something about me in utero. Or maybe they were just hedging their bets…
According to my calculations, I was conceived in May 1969. I think my parents keep track of this stuff. (Mom or Dad, feel free to write in if you know the exact date. (Okay, I just violated one of the first rules I learned about business writing: “There are no free feels.” Bernice Stillings, a super-cool motorcycle-riding Grandma, taught me that adage during my first week of my first research job in 1988 (Reagan was still president (or at least that’s what his business card said). (Oh, I forgot to warn you—though those who know me personally, already know—that I speak in parentheticals…stream of conscience (or is it stream of consciousness?). With me, a linear conversation is often a boring conversation (except when I’m trying to make a point (which I’m clearly not doing here. But just to be safe: ))))))))))
Where were we? Ah yes, my conception. Most kids wouldn’t conceive of thinking about anything related to their own conception. I’m not most kids. (Before you get wigged out, spoiler alert: I talk nothing about the actual conception. Thankfully, my parents got rid of that car and, I believe (and hope), the home movie of it, soon thereafter.)
My parents got married in the winter after the Summer of Love. By the time I was conceived less than two years later, it was more like the Spring of “Let’s Do This and Get It Over With.” They thought it would be funny, in the height of the Cold War, to give an American kid of much Russian Jewish descent a name that would be the singular version of the two fathers of Communism: Marx and Engels. My Mom swears it was in honor of the Marx Bros. (She was a huge Zeppo fan.)
Even if it had nothing to do with either Communism or comedy, my name is a paradox, if not an outright oxymoron (Wouldn’t ‘Oxymoron’ be a great stage name for a ditzy Vegas performer?): ‘Marc’ comes from ‘Mars’, the Roman god of war and caramel-coated chocolate-malt nougat. ‘Engel’ is German for angel.
I’m Marc Engel, war-like angel.
My name embodies a universal paradox. Regardless of what religion or philosophy we subscribe to, this duality of opposing forces constantly vying for our attention and direction exists in all of us. In Judaism, we refer to the yetzer ra, self-serving impulses, and the yetzer tov, moral conscience. In Eastern philosophy, we refer to yin and yang (not to be confused with yling ylang…which I was surprised to learn was an aphrodisiac and not the new panda at the National Zoo, which was a big relief, knowing that it came in spray form).
These seemingly opposite forces are not as antithetical to one other as they seem; they are complementary. In a world (dramatic film trailer voice here) where the media and too many politicians like to paint (with rollers) using only black and white, it’s important to remember that these seeming opposites may actually be more integrated and interconnected than we realize. It’s up to us to make those connections and embrace the paradoxen that exist around us and within us.