"I feel ....well, useless so much of the time," my friend lamented. "All I do now is clean, cook, and take care of kids. I used to oversee a multi-million dollar budget with pride, knowing those dollars were going to help needy families and now, well, now, a major daily topic for me is my baby's poop."
She laughed in spite of herself. "I know it's just for a season, and I love being a mom. But I got used to feeling that I was making a difference in people's lives. I miss that." Her former job was a fast paced position as CFO of a non-profit devoted to helping the homeless, which she resigned when she had her first child.
Her words still bounced around my mind this morning as I settled into the beauty shop for a long stint beginning with highlights. The shop was especially busy with women polishing themselves for Valentine's Day. Every stylist was at her station, trimming, curling, and flat ironing; the manicurist worked her art on hundreds of nails; and even the receptionist was pulled into duty shampooing hair. Hair spray, steam, and spritzing mists mingled in the air even as all the frenetic sounds blended somehow into a symphonic herald of beauty.
I was well tethered to my chair as my stylist began the tedious process of wrapping my hair in foil and bleaching sections of it. Her rhythmic motions on my head lulled me into the pleasant stillness that finds me when I can sit, watch, and think.
A lone man who came in for a quick cut was obviously out of his element among so many women busy in feminine arts. He sat, red faced, throughout his time in the chair, staring straight ahead, as if looking to the right or left would expose him to Medusa-like consequences. He exited so fast after paying that he almost seemed to be a ghost disappearing through the door. Chatter flowed around me like the Mississippi into the Gulf of Mexico as my hair achieved epic height and perhaps even radio conductivity with all the foil in it.
The front door opened again and a slight woman entered and stood, unsure, in the entrance. Dressed in high waisted jeans and a flannel shirt, she drew her purse in close to her chest. Her hair was short and dishevelled. Her face was wan and pale, sans makeup. "Can I help you?" asked a stylist near the door.
"I, uh, I need...," her voice trailed off as the stylist waited, scissors stilled over the head of her client.
"I was hoping to get a, uh, haircut, well...," she tried again.
"Do you have an appointment?" the stylist asked.
The woman put her head down, then looked up and away. "No, I don't. I, uh, was just driving past, thinking of what I could do to make myself feel better, and, uh...I saw this shop..."
The owner looked over, put down her scissors and walked to the woman. "We are booked right now, but if you want to come back in about an hour, I can cut your hair, " she informed her with a smile.
The woman nodded her head and suddenly put it down again. "I need it done today, so thank you. My birthday is tomorrow. And, uh, my mom is in the hospital, and she's not doing well, and I need to be prepared in case, uh, in case...".
At that, she put down her head again and then looked up, her chin quivering. A lone tear streaked its way down her cheek. "My mom is all I have. I'm single and I don't have children or brothers and sisters. It's just me and my mom, and if she, well, if she...you know, I want..." She pulled her arms around her waist and her small figure seemed to sink in upon itself. She shook her head once as if trying to regain control.
The owner walked right up to her and silently wrapped the woman, a stranger until this moment, in a warm bear hug. The distraught lady dropped her purse, put her arms back around the owner and broke into aching sobs. They hugged as if they were lifetime sisters.
Gradually, all the noise and motion in the shop ceased. One by one, stylists and customers alike left their stations, got up from their chairs and made their way to the woman. I untethered myself as quickly as I could from all my encumbrances and joined them in line to hug this solitary, weeping woman.
She received each of our embraces with more sobs, until finally by the last hug, she had cried herself out and had a new look on her tear stained face.
"I'm so sorry I broke down like that, but you all don't know what a difference you've made in my life with what you've done today, " she declared. "You just don't know!" She wiped her face and smiled a fresh smile.
It doesn't take a high powered job to change a life. I'm sure my new friend from the beauty shop today would agree.