Yesterday I was on the phone with someone whom I apparently have met but can't quite picture. She told me she knew our neighbors, and added "You're the woman with that beautiful red hair!"
Other than the irony of having just that morning re-hennaed my hair so that it does almost look red again, I was really struck by her exuberance about this hair of mine.
See, there was an earlier time in my life, a long time actually, when I was also as regularly identified with/by my hair as I tend to be now, except in those days I was tormented and taunted about it. Even certain progenitors of mine drilled into my thinking that my hair was a "big, ugly bush" and often bought me gifts like "bad hair day" plaques or dolls with giant straw hair because they reminded of me. Every boy in high school who ever commented about what I looked like teased me about my hair. One older boy nicknamed me "Fuzzy," and to another I was "Brillo Head." Girls teased that they could look like me if they would just rat up their hair.
Those days are long gone, thanks be to God, and I admit that not until I was 40 did I really learn how to take care of my naturally curly hair in such a way that I could actually get it to look the way I wanted. I have never been particularly fashion conscious nor am I a visually-oriented person, so I have never obsessed over my looks. But regardless, I realize now how deeply these words wounded my soul.
I really like my hair, and to be honest I always have. I just haven't known how to get along with it. It strikes me to the heart every time someone comments to me about it, because I realize no one does so in a mocking way any longer. It is to me like a little message of the victory of the anawim every time I get a hair compliment.
Awhile ago, though, there happened in my life a moment that captures why I'm bothering to write about this. This was a little chit-chat conversation with my confessor, after having completed the sacramental part of our exchange. Even though he knew nothing of my hair history, I knew that between the lines he was communicating something deeper than the chit chat, though:
He: How do you get your hair to look so pretty like that? Is that all natural?
Me: Yes. It grows like that.
He: Wow. Well isn't that a gift?
See, the fact of the matter is that, yes, my hair does look the way it does when I allow it to grow and help it to do what it wants to do by nature, which is to curl. When I work against my hair by brushing it, combing it, washing it with shampoo often (instead of conditioner), and not feeding it what it needs to stay in its shape -- in other words, when I treat my hair the way every "normal," straight-haired person does -- it suffers and loses its beauty.
Is this not the way our souls are? How often do we not take as our own identity the lies of the devil, which tell us we are worthless, ugly, useless, irredeemable? How often are we not made to feel guilty because we are unique? How often do we forget that each person is a unique miracle of God, whom God alone has the right to instruct as to our dignity, our beauty, and the right way for us to walk? God has no assembly line where He makes standard-issue souls. We must all be formed by the unique way of the cross that He designs for each of us. We can't copy what someone else is doing or hang our self-worth on their opinion or approval and expect to find our glory. Only God reveals that glory to and in us. We must look to Him and follow Him.