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Today I visited the woman who made me bald. Well, that’s not totally true. When my hair began to fall out in clumps, which is a really gross experience, I figured I would look less gross as a bald woman. So, I called Karen, my hairdresser to take it off—take it all off.
To digress for a moment, Karen is a very special person (although she might deny my description of her). She is a devoted Christian, a firm conservative and is fearless about speaking what is true for her. One day a couple of years ago I mentioned I was a Jew. She was delighted to hear it; her eyes lit up with anticipation. That very day she asked me if she could ask me questions about Judaism, and I said, of course! I can’t remember what our first conversation was about, but I do remember the tenor of our exchange. Her curiosity, follow-on questions, and even her comments about the practices of Christianity and how they related to Judaism (or didn’t) were steeped in sincerity and delight. Never once did I feel uncomfortable about her questions or motives.
From that day forward, we often spoke about the holidays that we were both celebrating, the specific practices and how they were observed. Both of us would mull over what we were learning from each other and ask more questions to make sure we understood. It was the highlight of our time together, as she snipped through my hair. I realized that I was getting to know a person who lived her faith and wasn’t uncomfortable speaking with another person who was engaged with a different faith, but who was respectful of, and fascinated by our differences.
The day I went in to have all my hair cut off, Karen was less perky than usual, understandably. She knew how much I enjoyed working with my own hair, and that removing it was going to be a big adjustment for me. My husband was with me that day, too, for moral support. She used scissors to cut off the majority of my hair, and I watched out of the corner of my eye as the clumps drifted to the floor. She then shifted to a razor, cutting off layers in stages. I honestly think she knew that as layers were removed, my clinging to my former appearance would also drop away. Layer by layer, I saw my appearance transformed, with my loving husband and my faith partner standing strong with me.
And then she was done. My husband commented what a nice shape my head was. Karen reassured me that I looked good. I looked at myself in the mirror and realized that something was revealed in that process besides my bald pate. That as much as I loved my hair, I wasn’t my hair. That my hair was not gone, but only temporarily absent. That one day it would grow back, and my transformation would become a process of not becoming who I was before, but a new me would emerge, one who had gone through the trials of cancer and come out with a renewed sense of life and death. When I asked what her fee was (since it had taken a while), she waved my question away. It was her gift to me.
Today I went with Jerry to see Karen (since he was due for a haircut). She insisted on putting on a mask before we gave each other a hug. She admired my new look (with my hair growing out) and the silver color—I told her not to get too attached to the color because it could change.
Just like everything changes.Published in