Thursday, June 16, 2011

the hair story.

once upon a time, there was a maiden who had long golden locks. her name was Hannah. (not Rapunzel... that's a different story. go watch Tangled. kbye.)

Hannah lived in the magical land of Grahamstown, along with her beautiful sister Sindi and ±7000 other university students. Sindi, too, had long tresses, only hers were a rich shade of chestnut brown.

one day, late in the month of March, the two sisters heard word of an event which would be taking place that very week. at that event, volunteers would pay to have their hair either sprayed a variety of different colours, or shaved off. after some deliberation, the sisters decided to attend the event. and thus, on the night of the 30th of March 2011, Sindi and Hannah made their way to the hall in which the event was being held, and proceeded to cut their braids off...

and then have their heads shaved.

wait, what?

i can see your facial expressions in my mind... amazing :) yes, this story is my own, as well as my sister's. but it's a little more complicated than just that.

see, the full story starts about nine months ago, when a similar event was held in Grahamstown, before i lived here. (since our school year runs from February to November instead of September to June, i was still in the midst of my senior year of high school last year in September.) it's a pretty well-known occurrence, named a "Shavathon". the idea was coined by CANSA - the Cancer Association of South Africa - and the aims of the exercise are to raise money for cancer survivors, to raise awareness about cancer and to show solidarity with cancer fighters and survivors.

in any case, at the Shavathon held last September in Grahamstown, Sindi had her hair sprayed multiple colours and her boyfriend, Alan, had his hair shaved off. a few days later, i was speaking to her on the phone and she said, "you know, i'm thinking of shaving my head next time there's a Shavathon." i responded by laughing. no WAY would i ever do that! ha! i LOVED my hair... it was going nowhere.

and still this little thought nibbled in the back of my mind. and the little thought was saying, "what is it you'd lose by shaving your head? your dignity? your pride? your soul?" that little voice bothered me because it made me ponder what it was that i considered to be really important. was i really vain enough to justify not shaving my head just because i thought i'd look weird? was i defined by my hair, or did my value come from something more? and if i honestly didn't place my value in my appearance but in something greater, then why was the idea of shaving my head so repulsive to me?

let me clarify - this event means a lot to me. my beautiful grandmother battled several different forms of cancer over the course of her life, and she eventually died close to two years ago because of an aggressive type of bone cancer. she was still one of the most beautiful, loving souls i've ever encountered; despite the pain she endured and the hell she went through, she had a smile of sunshine and cared so deeply about other people. my little cousin, who is now 6 years old, was diagnosed with cancer when he was only a few months. he's now in first grade; he has no vision in one eye and very limited vision in the other, and it's very likely that he'll soon lose his vision completely because of the cancer. blind before he turns ten. and yet, in spite of the battles he's already had to fight at such a young age, he is positive and full of energy and joy and love. these two people - Jessica and Erynn - are two of my heroes in this life, courageous and gorgeous and wonderful.


really. a week or two later, i sent Sindi a text message saying, "yeah, let's shave our heads together next year." it bothered me that i was so tied to my hair. it didn't define me; i wouldn't let it. in the words of India Arie, "i am not my hair". and what about Granny Jess and Erynn? they hadn't even had a choice in the matter. they were the real heroes. this was a salute to them. we were resolved and determined.

that being said, we didn't know when exactly the Shavathon would be held, so we expected it to be in September, as it had been the year before. i moved to Grahamstown at the beginning of February, started attending classes and making incredible friends, familiarising myself with and coming to love this place and the people that inhabit it. there were essays to write and books to read, societies to join, decisions to make and dining hall meals to complain about.

and then on the night of the 27th of March, i happened to be down campus and saw a poster advertising a Shavathon. on the 30th of March. which was... that Wednesday.

but we bit the bullet. we went along that night, after i'd written a test (we write our subject tests at night... fuuuun!), we paid our money, we waited around. Sindi had plaited her hair; i did the same. then we chopped one another's plaits off. and then i sat down in a chair and got shorn; Sindi followed me.

it's been just over 11 weeks now, and i can say this:
shaving my head was easily one of the best experiences of my life.
i have quite honestly never felt so liberated as i did that night! people's reactions have been so absolutely cool. when i spoke about what i planned to do beforehand, most people raised their eyebrows or exclaimed, "no - don't do that!", expressions of concern lodged on their faces. because of this, i expected the majority of people with whom i interact to react with shock and horror after i'd shaved my head; instead, most people told me how cool i looked, saying that they wished they had the guts to do the same. but i laughed when they called me brave. i didn't feel brave... i felt free.

and you know what? i still do. i miss my long hair sometimes, sure... but not half as frequently as i thought i might. i love how easy it is to wash and dry my hair; i love the little ducktail i now have; i love twirling the hair at the nape of my neck around with my finger when i'm thinking. i love telling people what the Shavathon's all about, telling them the stories of Granny Jess and Erynn - the bravehearts, the resolutes. a reminder that there are countless others out there who are fighting similar battles with just as much courage and chutzpah, a lesson in humility and an incredible affirmation that my value is found in nothing less than Christ alone.

...and that, my friends, is the full story :)

P.S. in case you're interested, here's a little then and now:



little learner said...

i love you.
i think this needs to be published in a local newspaper! I think i am going to submit it!

Anonymous said...

My Beautiful Friend,

I have contemplated shaving my head for a few years now; but the Shavathon passes without me building up the courage to take the leap...Otherwise known as The Snip :). I look at the photographs of you with a sense of wonder. I truly think shaving one's locks is a brave act. It is a clear ACTION that speaks about those who have suffered with cancer, as well as a striving for a deeper meaning to one's identity. In my opinion the act expresses these causes more truthfully than the WORDS which are so easy to speak.

Cancer has affected my family and friends, too. My dad passed away after battling with cancer for many years, yet at the end of his life made every effort to be kind and joyful despite the pain. My cousin passed away from a malignant tumour when she was in her teens...and, I suppose I feel, was never able to fully explore the riches that life has to offer. Jayne must have been one of the most compassionate people I have known. One of my good friends had leukaemia as a child, missed years of school, yet today is one of the bravest people I know. My aunt has also recently been diagnosed with breast and thyroid cancer and is going in for radiation next week. Not every retelling of a battle with cancer ends on a positive note, and it is a disease which arouses fear and dread within many.

Just the word 'cancer' stirs fear of the unknown within me. The loss of hair, which often speaks of a change in identity holds an incredible amount of power. In my opinion, shaving one's head speaks of a defiance against this fear, this power, and a trust in one's own identity. It is beautiful. It is brave. It makes my heart swell.

Your bravery has assisted me in my decision to shave my hair next year. I may not have someone to shave it with me, and it may be misunderstood, but knowing that you and Sindi have prevailed gives me much courage. Thank you.

Your ever loving peanut,


Annie Cristina said...

You are the bravest and most beautiful -- inside and out -- person I know. Period.