I follow her. “Can you make me look young, distinguished and handsome,” I say.
She glances back, “Well, I’ll try, but there is a surcharge for handsome.”
I’m in downtown Atlanta with a conference for Spiritual Directors International, doing a presentation about how spiritual care is grounded in self-care. I have a window of time, and need a haircut. So I take the recommendation of the concierge and find myself in a salon near the hotel, following a young hairdresser toward a chair near the back, debating whether I want to pay the “surcharge.”
One of my philosophies is this: In a barber chair–an inevitability on par with airplanes and bank teller lines–conversation is a bother. Just cut my hair, and let me go. After all, I have important stuff to do.
Because she made me laugh, I break my rule about staying mute saying that maybe a buzz cut is in order, telling Sharon about my Father’s decision after cancer to enjoy his new hair-free care-free look.
“I’m a survivor too,” she says. “Just finished my chemo.”
I wasn’t ready for that.
Because if there is conversation, these chairs are for small talk only–no different than coffee hour after church.
“I’m sorry,” I say.”When did you learn about the cancer and what kind of treatment did you go through?”
“I had the whole nine yards,” she laughs. “Surgery. And then more surgery and then chemo.”
We are quiet, except for the sound of scissors.
“Best thing that ever happened to me,” she adds.
I’ve heard people say that–about tragedy or loss or heartbreak or misfortune–but am honestly unsure what to think. How can such a statement be true? I do know that something inside us wants (needs) to find a silver lining, a way to make sense of what appears to be an utterly senseless invasion of our body, or life, or world.
I watch her in the mirror.
Sharon is young, mid-30s, petite, her facial features delicate and freckled, carrying a youthful innocence. There is no sign of any recent clash with the drug treatments that traumatize body and spirit, all in the name of health.
She looks into the mirror and holds my gaze.
“It has made me softer,” she tells me. “And now, I love different.”
A single mother, Sharon talks about her 15 year-old daughter, in a tenor both wistful and filled with pride. She describes a young girl whose life was turned upside down with the possibility of a mother’s death. And about a renewed relationship between mother and daughter.
I nod. I understand.
“We never know,” she continues. “A year ago if you had told me that this is where I’d be, I’d have told you you’re crazy. But not now. Now I look at people different.”
I compliment her hair. She shakes her head, tossing her hair, looking cute and sassy. “Thanks. I made it. It’s something I do now. Make personal wigs for people going through chemo.”
Go figure. I’m at a conference with spiritual directors from different faith traditions around the world, and my moment of enlightenment and grace is gifted to me in a beauty-salon-barber-chair.
I was taught–in church–as a boy, that we should love one another. You know, practice kindness and compassion.
But here’s the deal: love can only spill from a heart that has been softened and in most cases broken.
There is no doubt that when faced with tragedy or chaos or uncertainty or misfortune, we want to have a “handle” on it, or fix it, or make it go away.
But this is not about a way to figure life out.
Nor is it about determining whether we have intentionally or unintentionally invited chaos or sickness into our world.
It’s about the permission to see the world–this day–through the eyes of our heart. Our heart made soft.
It happens when. . .
. . .we allow ourselves to feel, fully and wholly. . .without a need to defend, justify or explain,
. . .we allow ourselves to receive love and kindness without suspicion,
. . .we are free to embrace a core of strength and courage that resides inside of us. . .and let it spill to those around us.
Today someone asked me, “What did you do this week?”
Well, I got a haircut.
And felt my heart soften just a little.
The heart is the only broken instrument that works. T.E. Kalem