sari, photo courtesy Thamizhpparithi Maari, Creative Commons
by Kristin Nador/@KristinNador
In the spring of 2011 Artist Daughter and I were trying out hairdos for her upcoming nuptials.
A.D. wanted to take a trial run at the local cosmetology school and experiment with ringlets before she committed to anything for her big day. She encouraged me to try some curls, too, so we could ‘match’. I knew that wasn’t going to happen.
The reflection in the mirror said it all. In spite of all the hair dryers, curling irons, mousse, hairspray, and the stylist’s expertise, my hair hung in limp stringy bunches. My stick straight hair refused to hold an actual curl as long as I could remember, even during the big perm years of the ’80s. Instead of curls, my helmet of lumpy frizz bookmarks the year 1985 in photo albums and knocked me off chemical hair processes forever.
Sitting in the chair, I didn’t worry about the botched curls, though my student-stylist nervously apologized. I had too many other things to focus my anxiety on. My daughter’s wedding going off without a hitch, the issue of my husband’s upcoming surgery the week after the wedding, and how long his recovery might affect our finances. I distractedly bit my nails and watched the stylist orchestrate Daughter’s hair, a round brush in one hand and a hair dryer in the other.
I heard a commotion at the front of the salon area. I turned my chair and there he stood: A bright bundle of unexpected joy.
“Each day holds a surprise. But only if we expect it can we see, hear, or feel it when it comes to us. Let’s not be afraid to receive each day’s surprise, whether it comes to us as sorrow or as joy. It will open a new place in our hearts, a place where we can welcome new friends and celebrate more fully our shared humanity.” – Henri Nouwen
A small boy, about 5 years old I guessed, led the way into the salon, a large contingent of relatives trailing behind him. Shoulder-length brown curls framed his face, his toothy grin contrasting against cappuccino skin. He wore a simple white cotton tunic, in contrast to the bright silk saris of royal blue, magenta, and purple of his female relatives. Dark eyes looked from person to person with a sparking curiosity. He chose a chair and clambered up without hesitation.
The matriarch of the group attempted to explain to the stylist what was expected. When the language barrier became too much, one of a trio of giggling teenage girls translated. Older female relatives clucking amongst one another surrounded the boy’s mother, who seemed very nervous, while the grandfather stood near the young father, patting him on the back periodically. The boy was completely oblivious to all the hubbub and made faces at himself in the mirror across from him.
The cosmetology students gathered in a group, whispering together. It was some sort of religious tradition, the boy’s first haircut. A tradition or rite of passage of some type was about to take place. The problem: the hair had to be cut in a single line, and none could touch the floor. They had to put it in a large zipped plastic bag, to take home for a ceremony.
The original stylist begged off, and the others were too afraid of screwing it up to step forward. Finally, it fell to the school’s head teacher to do the job. She squared her shoulders and walked up to the group, and a lot of head nodding and smiling commenced.
As the teacher took up her scissors, all the room fell silent. Every eye watched, the family clutched one another. The teacher rubbed the boy’s bobbing head, she whispered something in his ear. He sat still, eyes wide in anticipation, still grinning. How the teacher pulled off the move I don’t know, but with two hands she managed to hold the boy’s head, cut his thick hair in one straight line, and lump all the hair into the baggie she held without dropping any.
The family breathed a collective sigh of relief. The bag was handed off. As the hairdresser set her scissors on the counter and before anyone could say anything, a sound broke the silence.
Laughter. Laughter bubbled out of the boy like a bird’s song. Pure, free, unencumbered by the worries of proper haircuts or mothers or fathers or hairstylists or the world. Laughter pealing like church bells marking the call to worship. Laughter full of joy, just because.
The family hugged one another, smiled and nodded to the hairdresser, and just as they entered, they left, the boy marching at the head of the group. Our eyes met as he passed, and that happy little pixie cast a spell that whispered to my heart “Throw off the shadows of what might be and receive each ordinary moment as a gift.”
The women walked past, the mother dabbing her eyes with a tissue as their saris swished a goodbye across the concrete floor. Like each of the beautiful dresses, it reminded me that every family has its own unique fabric, yet we are all the same.
Daughter’s hair was finished. Luxurious chestnut spirals surrounded porcelain cheeks and sapphire eyes.
“What do you think, Mom?”
I glanced at my droopy hair in the mirror, pulled a tissue from my pocket, and laughed.
When have you been surprised by joy?
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