There is a Chinese custom, the hair combing ceremony, that marks the passage of youth to adulthood. The ritual was once performed only for girls on their fifteenth birthday. Today the ceremony is mostly practiced before marriage, for both young men and women.
Despite these changes, the gestures are the same. An auspicious person, usually the mother if she has not suffered too much misfortune, is responsible for the combing. With each movement of the comb, she recites benedictions and wishes: long life, happy marriage, abundant progeny, prosperity… It is a prayer for a safe crossing, directing the benevolence of the universe towards this beloved head.
I discovered this custom only after writing “Nourish”. I entered a mystery which I have not yet fathomed.
I had imagined a very tender female ceremony where silken hair and the caressing discipline of braiding would dialogue in silence. But it already existed. And even better, the ancient ritual taught me what I wanted to say to my daughter, allowed me to name what I had wished for her as she reached the age of fifteen.
Let milk flow in your mouth
Let it flow between us, in you, beyond you
Let there be abundance, too much
May it never end
What feeds you nourishes me too
I am strangely sated
At the moment of your gentle weaning
I discover that my own imagination is not only communicable but that it is made up of shared human experiences that are somehow reborn in me. Is it because symbolic meaning emerges out of materiality, that gestures remember? Hair and skin, the caress of hands, the white sweetness of milk…Through these intuitive paths made concrete, near and far, past and present resonate together.
Not only that. It can happen that a real fact seems to carry, from the start, a potential meaning. Root vegetables helped me to find my roots. The last meal prepared for me by my father, who was suffering from cancer, was lobster.
It is as if the world is rich in dormant meanings waiting only for the accidents of our life to awaken them.
This enigma of reality, or of the meaning that comes from reality, is insoluble. To deepen the mystery of the combing ceremony, I can only add another fact: my daughter was born in China. How to take in this fact, if not to subscribe to a belief in ‘hasard objectif’ revealing to me that my own story must necessarily be told in this way – by inventing a ritual that already existed.