First thing each morning, I put on my clothes — no, that’s not true. First, after I jump out of bed, I scurry quickly five feet down to turn on my little heater in my van in which I live, and as that heat quickly changes the temperature from 39 to a passable 64, then I put on my clothes, often the same ones I wore the day before, but-for clean underwear and socks. I put on a saucepan of water to boil for my coffee while I grind my half cup of beans and put them in the French press, and then, a never-fail ritual, I turn on my laptop and check my emails.
I have five email addresses created for different reasons. They’re like different clothes I put on, or different hats worn for different occasions.
The first email I opened was a weekly post on CaringBridge, updating a friend’s journey with cancer. This week, five weeks after her treatment began, she is completely bald. She posed in the window of the camera lens in her baldness and in a colorful head wrap, trying on her new looks that she’ll wear for awhile.
She also shared a picture of her granddaughter’s sixth birthday, the Great Unicorn Gathering. With sparkles in her eyes and a smile, she, her granddaughter, was standing by a table of colorful cakes and cupcakes, also dressed in their own headdresses of white-“haired” frosted chocolate cupcakes, drizzled with something looking like strawberry syrup, and a round single-layer cake mounded with fresh raspberries and sliced almonds.
In her CaringBridge entry, my friend writes about the joy of her granddaughter’s little party. Also, she makes a comment about a “challenging” nurse she’d had to contend with during her last chemo appointment. Something that’s so special about my friend is her compassion and understanding of others. This is often reflected, I think, in her filter and her ability to think before she speaks, making her the go-to school counselor for hundreds of children, and a dear person who has shouldered maybe too many of her friends’ secrets and woes. I too have taken my problems to her, where she’s listened deeply, and then asked those questions of me wherein the answers rested. A miracle worker, she is, revealing the one constant of life: the beauty of love and caring.
These are the thoughts I have as I look at these images she’s shared reflected in these window frames: her bald pate, her colorful head wrap. She emanates a beauty from within that overshadows any of the guises of clothes and hairdos she’s worn over the years.
She also wrote of the tears she cried as a friend shaved off the last tufts of hair that had clung to her head like flood-torn branches on a river’s edge, life’s river. But her current still runs strong and clear, and if obstacles appear, she is held safely by her husband and surrounded with the closest and most loving friends to help her remove those rocks and boulders or to portage her around, over, or through them. The love she’s given is returning thousandfold.
She is and always has been the most beautiful woman I’ve had the privilege to share my life with. Just as I get used to my thinning hair that’s come with aging, just as she watched her husband’s hair turn from dark to white (both of which were slow processes that slipped in through the cracks of time, while hers came upon her so quickly), she will get used to not having hair for a while. It’s just a different guise — or disguise — she’s trying on, while her beauty shines even brighter.
Right now, she’s the beauty of an acorn without its top hat, shiny and smooth. We already know — all of us who love her — that within that shiny, beautiful seed is a great, strong tree, burgeoning with life, strength, and love which is, after all, the beauty that always has and always will shine forth.
She is the clear-flowing river. All the rest is just window dressing.
You know who you are, and I love you.