I share a birthday with a lot of famous people:
Jim Carey, Betty White, Muhammad Ali, Benjamin Franklin, Zooey Deschanel, Maury Povich, Kid Rock, James Earl Jones, and Eartha Kitt. We were all born January 17th. Pretty cool, right? But the one that really counts for me is Michelle Obama. Michelle and I were born the exact same cold winter day: I entered the world a month early in the middle of a snowstorm in Syracuse, NY (My mom liked to say it was the last time I was early anywhere), and Michelle made her debut several hundred miles away on the south side of Chicago. The future FLOTUS and I were birthday twins.
In January, 2009, the weekend before Barack Obama’s inauguration, we both had birthday parties. The Obamas were moving in to the White House a few days later, so I addressed a card to Michelle at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
A few weeks later I received a reply: a sturdy 9×12 manila envelope with a warmly worded, very official letter from Michelle on heavy bond stationery with a watermark; suitable for framing.
Of course, in my heart of hearts, I knew it was improbable Michelle had sent it herself. She answered questions I hadn’t really asked. She thanked me for supporting her husband and all he wanted to do for our country. I couldn’t be entirely sure she had even seen my card, though I hoped so. I put her letter in a file. I sent her another card the following year, and received another reply, this time in a regular legal-size envelope, the letter folded in crisp thirds. We’ve never actually met but you could say we stayed in touch.
My husband likes to joke I married the wrong guy and could have been First Lady. I joke back, “Or maybe if you’d married Michelle you would have been President.”
There are a lot of funny coincidences and connections in life. Things that might not mean anything on their own, except for the fact that we humans are wired to make connections. These coincidences can be a stand-in for a parallel life, for connections that almost but don’t quite make a full appearance, but count in some way nonetheless. A reach into the darkness to make light, if you will.
For instance, my name, Lisa, from the beginning, has been confused for Liza. Which is funny, because the year Michelle and I were born, Lisa was the #1 most popular girls’ name in the United States. We Lisa’s were a dime a dozen. Liza, however, wasn’t even in the top 100, not even close. But the universe kept trying to change this for me. The lady my mom hired to print my birth announcements announced me as “Liza Meltzer” and the whole batch had to be redone. Over the years, various “typos” have led me back to Liza, and I often wonder if my parents should have just taken the cue and sent out the first batch of announcements.
I’ve always felt Liza was an alter ego. Once, when I lived in New York City, I went to a Harry Connick Jr. concert and found myself in the audience with Liza Minelli. It gave me a thrill to be there with her.
And there were other alter egos. When I moved to the Bay Area and married Jon, I would go grocery shopping at the local Safeway and when I got to the check-out, key in my phone number for the store discounts. I would get the discounts, but some mystery person would get my points, and the cashier would hand my my receipt and say with a smile, “Thank you, Ms. Muracco.” The receipt would say her name, too. There went the universe trying to change me into someone else again. I would grit my teeth and mutter, “That’s not my name.” But we had a random connection, too, this Muracco and I. When I finally changed the number on our Safeway card, I almost missed her.
Around that same time, people started periodically calling our home number and asking for a woman named Alice, and then acting shocked she wasn’t there. This went on for years. They were sometimes distraught and couldn’t believe Alice wasn’t answering. “Do you know where she went?” they inquired. And each time I would patiently explain that Alice never lived here, she only had this phone number and we’d never met.
But to circle back to where I began: This summer Michelle Obama headlined the first night of the 2020 Democratic Convention.
Excerpt from speech: “So let me be as honest and clear as I possibly can. Donald Trump is the wrong president for our country. He has had more than enough time to prove that he can do the job, but he is clearly in over his head. He cannot meet this moment. He simply cannot be who we need him to be for us. It is what it is….So if you take one thing from my words tonight, it is this: if you think things cannot possibly get worse, trust me, they can; and they will if we don’t make a change in this election. If we have any hope of ending this chaos, we have got to vote for Joe Biden like our lives depend on it.”
That was some speech, right? With an agenda to say something real. As she spoke about the state of our country and the possibility of change for the better, although I no longer had her home address to send her a card, I was proud to once again claim the former FLOTUS as my birthday twin.
It was political in its way, of course, but really, it was personal. Just like her letters to me: at once both personal and suitable for framing.
Don’t forget to vote!!!
Thank you to Lisa Taggert for designing and baking dancing girls birthday cakes!