Yesterday I spent five hours at the hair salon. It’s like an unwritten rule in my culture that you just need to get comfortable at the hair salon or barber shop because you’re going to be there for a while. I have always struggled to embrace this part of my culture because I just want to get in and get out; however, as I’ve gotten a bit wiser over time, I’ve realized that sitting for a spell isn’t really an inconvenience.
We need that white space — that time to just be — that time to just sit, listen, and sometimes learn a thing or two without feelings of guilt that you should be doing something. We need to find a way to free our minds from that sort of guilt. The weight of it is just too heavy.
So every time I go, I’m greeted in French, Afrikaans, and Spanish. The owner of the shop is from Togo, my stylist is from Namibia, and another stylist is from Mexico. They welcome me like Norm from Cheers. It’s actually a pretty cool gesture. Well, as I tease my stylist about how long it takes her to do my hair, everyone chuckles, and they join in the fun. I told them that I told my husband to fend for himself at supper time because I would probably be in the shop for 17 hours (at which point everyone laughed). I went on to say that I asked him to lay out my clothes for church because I’d only have time to take a birdbath at the salon, rush home, and slip into my church clothes the next morning. Again, the shop erupted into laughter.
My stylist (Venaje) was also giggling because she knows she’s slow, but her work is always beautiful. She said that my constant ribbing motivates her, so “Bring it on, Ms. Michelle.” We sat in silence for a little while as other clients came and left. Still more clients came and went, and Venaje still was working diligently.
Sometime around 3:00 PM– 2 1/2 hours into my visit, a man walked in and greeted everyone. Everyone in the shop knows him as Wayne. He staggered uncomfortably close to Venaje and me. To say that he was drunk is an understatement, but there was something about his eyes. I saw hope. He had come in for a haircut. Venaje cuts his hair free of charge each week when she isn’t too busy. I watched how gentle she was with him and how the months of these interactions had grown into a friendship of sorts. I learned that he was 55 years old, though the stress of his life had tacked on another 10 – 15 years. He left after a few minutes because he realized she didn’t have time today. He wished us well and disappeared into the crowd of shoppers going to nearby stores.
About 30 minutes later, Wayne returned with a friend named Gregory. He introduced us as his friends. We talked for a bit until Gregory found a way to ask Venaje if she would cut his hair from time to time. They were so child-like in their interactions with us until Gregory said, “Oh, I’m sorry, ladies.” He promptly removed his hat as though conditioned to do it when entering a room. Removing his cover revealed a clean cut. I complemented him on his haircut, and that’s when the magic happened. He told me that he was in the Marine Corp many years ago. I said, “Semper Fi!” He responded with “Always faithful.” I shared that my husband also served in the Marine Corp. That’s when I saw something in his eyes as well — hope. We talked for 30 minutes or so about my brief time in the Air Force, SR71s, F117As, Thunderbirds, and Blue Angels. It felt as though we had known each other for years. Before they left, we told them to take care of themselves and each other.
A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity. ~ Proverbs 17:17
I said, “It was nice to meet you, Gregory and Wayne.” Gregory turned around abruptly and asked, “Who is Wayne?” I chuckled and said, “Your buddy.” He looked confused and then shared, “Man, I never knew your name was Wayne. I just knew you as Smurf.” Again, the shop erupted in laughter. These two have been living in a tent city in my community for years. They go to a local soup kitchen for meals twice a day, and not once did they learn each other’s full names. I guess names aren’t that important sometimes — it’s the other stuff — like being a friend, a brother, and a source of hope. I learned today that Philadelphia isn’t the only City of Brotherly Love. My small town in Maryland is as well.