I had my hair cut again.
I decided beforehand that I would try to better hold up my end of the conversational give and take during this salon visit and present more of my true self conversationally rather than just acknowledging the usual facts of yes married, no kids, and yes the weather’s been pretty nice. I brought the photo from the New York Times of my current haircut, the same photo as last time, to refresh my stylist’s memory.
She looked at the picture and said, “Oh, that’s Jamie Lee Curtis’ cut.” When she showed me her magazine photo of Curtis, I agreed that the actress’ cut was indeed similar though significantly shorter. I sat in the chair and she began cutting. And talking. Given the time of year, her first question was, “Are you ready for Christmas?” Fixing my expression into the open and honest position and looking to meet her eyes in the mirror, I replied that I didn’t really do Christmas anymore, that I didn’t shop or decorate. I recommended the same to her, saying that it was actually quite freeing.
Without so much as a pause or an acknowledgement that I had spoken, she told me she was a Christmas fanatic and went on to describe coaxing her husband to bring their five Chrismas trees out of the basement, then about her thwarted quest for a particular make-up kit for the salon’s gift exchange. She continued with the usual and customary holiday report until I experienced a brief, thrilling surge of hope when she said she had bought her grandson some books so he could know the true story of Christmas — I thought she was referring to the church’s choice of December 25 to coincide with the date of pagan celebrations to confuse the whole picture and gain more converts — but that wasn’t the story she meant. She was talking about a manger, three kings, and one god. I released my tenuous hold on the edge of the conversational cliff from which I dangled and landed in a heap like virtual Christmas cookie dough at its bottom, where I sat listening as she waxed on about holiday preparations and shopping and gifting while scissoring through my hair. When she was finished, I didn’t have the haircut from the photo I’d brought. Jamie Lee Curtis sat atop my head, placed there by the stylist absentmindedly between statements of retail outrage and faithful fervor; her very own Christmas gift to me.
I’m good with it, though. Really. People give you gifts, and people give you gifts. Some are delicious and welcome, like that 2 pound box of chocolate creams or a mixed 6-pack of craft beer. Some are quirky and fun, like racing nun dolls or a toy catapult that can be mounted on a helmet. Some are simply useful — a gift card or a calendar.
And then, some gifts are liberating. Quietly, unexpectedly, surprisingly liberating. My experience with the stylist was just that. My hair was far too short, but it will grow back. I lost something besides my hair, though; I lost anger, frustration, and sadness.
When my stylist launched into her Christmas spiel, I wanted to counter with my own experience of the last dozen years, a saga of lost faith and Christmas traditions once held bold and confident and dear but now pulverized into rubble. I wanted her to understand and acknowledge the hijacking of seasonal celebrations by both religious and secular raiders. I wanted to relieve her of the pressure of Christmas spending and shopping so special to the Scrooge-ish hearts of every retailer while prying through her nose with hooks, ancient Egyptian-like, her adherence to the story of a god’s birth published, “hark ye, unholy multitudes,” in the world’s best selling book. I wanted her to put just one toe into the murky doldrums of Christmas once loved and now lost and feel the crushing emptiness of being trapped there.
Instead, she quite suddenly cut all my hair very short in just a few motions while she babbled about Christmas. I saw the shearing begin to happen, and might have been able to stop her, but I didn’t try. I let go the vision I had for my haircut even as my hair hit the floor around me. I decided it didn’t matter. It just didn’t matter. The hair would grow in again. And she would have her Christmas with its five decorated trees and her mission to keep a very suspect story alive in her grandson, no matter how I might try to convince her otherwise. Why should she not have that? Why shouldn’t each of us have, or not have, our version of Christmas? She had unknowingly given me the gift of letting go of the frustration and futility of trying to justify my lost Christmas Past, and my angry desire to push back against the hype and secular vs. religious dueling of Christmas Present. She gave me the gift of being able to observe the holiday frenzy and moral proselytizing without leaping into the fray to argue my case, and she gave me the experience of contentment being with Mike while opening little offerings from each other without thinking about the existence of a god or the holiday profit margins of a corporation. I can’t prove either of those, so who am I to try to convince someone else? I am the recipient of a very great gift this year, the gift of personal liberation and wider acceptance, and I am quite humbly grateful for it.