There is something about having long, almost-to-your-waist hair that is a little like being pregnant. For some friends and strangers, the mere fact that it is there creates an irresistible invitation for them to invade your personal space. Like a protruding baby belly, they touch it without warning, admire it for whatever it represents to them. With a few exceptions, I’ve never minded this much. And for at least the last 10 years, it’s been a fact of my life.
A few months before I got pregnant in 2004, I was entertaining the idea of a master’s degree, and took a graduate class in folklore. We learned about ethnographic interviewing methods and the ethical issues inherent in studying people this way before setting out to work on our own projects. Others in the class interviewed homeless squatters, formulated ways to map out research they had done about the nature of the tourism trade in Egypt or examined century-old Irish folk tale chapbooks.
I chose to think about long hair.
I did preliminary research on what it can symbolize, what its value can be, how it’s perceived by others. There have been moments in the world’s history when a woman’s hair has been her family’s most valuable asset. It can have religious implications, as it does for the Amish – from birth, a woman’s hair is never cut, always swirled into an efficient bun and kept under cover. It can make people assume you are vegetarian (really!), a fan of particular music or nostalgic for an era you never actually experienced.
But most striking to me was the attachment to hair as a marker of time, as an organic map of life experience. We can chart our lives with every inch.
I looked at the ends of my hair last night. They landed about halfway between the base of my shoulder blades and my waist, so it was easy to pull them in front of my face. This hair was with me when I still had one living grandmother left. It was there when Dan and I stood on the high cliffs of Santorini looking into the caldera and I thought that the altitude and unfenced roads were making me nauseous, not realizing that I was about three weeks into the journey of pregnancy.
I could come up with memories that made me want to hold onto these few inches always, and others that made me want to banish them completely.
But then I think about what they can mean to a child without hair, who has Alopecia or is undergoing chemotherapy for Cancer, and I wonder why I haven’t done this sooner. In recent months, I’ve read words by brave souls on various blogs – parents with cancer, parents of children with cancer – and I am awed by their strength in times of suffering, their willingness to have faith in people, to share themselves so candidly. In the face of those things, this donation doesn’t feel like much.
If I could, with my few inches of hair, I would also donate the warmth of the Grecian sunlight that touched it, the overwhelming feeling of health and well-being that I enjoyed during my second trimester of pregnancy and the joy of hearing my baby son’s hysterical laughter when I’ve enveloped him in the cave of my hair and dragged the ends over his face and belly.
That is the wish I have sent with these few inches, anyway.
I went to Gina’s in Grandview, where they do a lot of Locks of Love donations. My stylist, John, was a really lovely person who seemed genuinely excited to lighten my load and make me feel pretty. Afterwards, we went to the extra swollen Griggs Reservoir so that Dan could take pictures of me that make me look like a country and western singer. (This is the calling I missed, people.)
I gave 12 inches of my hair, which is supposed to be enough to help make long-haired wigs for little girls, and there was more than I expected left over for me. Declan watched the ponytail come off. I wanted him to see it happen so that he wouldn’t be scared by a different-looking mommy.
And I would do it again in a heartbeat.
Take a look at some of Locks of Love’s other donors. Don’t you love that 80 percent of them are children?