One of the books I read in the wilderness was, Reluctant Pilgrim, by fellow Redbud, Enuma Okoro. It provided healing to my soul. Enuma and her publisher are kind enough to provide a chapter excerpt from an intimate moment in the wilderness. I pray that it blesses you as it has me.
The following is a chapter from Reluctant Pilgrim: A Moody Somewhat Self-Indulgent Introvert’s Search for Spiritual Community, by Enuma Okoro. Copyright c 2010 Fresh Air Books. Used with permission.
Lord, of heaven and earth. . . .
The night that Claire called I was getting ready for bed around 11:00 Pm. I knew something was wrong.
“It’s happening,” she whimpered. “What? What, Claire?” “My hair. Tufts in my hand.” “I’m coming over right now, okay? I’ll be right there.”
I hung up the phone and dialed Sarah’s number. Her husband, Jon, picked up.
“Hey, Jon, sorry to call so late. Can I talk to Sarah, please? It’s really important.”
“Is everything okay?” he asked.
“Yeah, just get Sarah.”
“Hey, Enuma, what’s up?” Sarah asked.
“Claire just called me and her hair has started falling out, and she’s freaking. I don’t think she should be alone tonight. I’m heading over there now. Do you want to come with me?”
“Oh my gosh, Enuma, of course.”
“Okay, I’ll come pick you up.”
By the time Sarah and I got to Claire’s house, it was close to midnight.
When she opened the front door, her eyes were red and swollen and she held wads of tissue in her hands.
“Oh, guys, thanks so much for coming. I feel so bad for freaking out and calling. I knew this was going to happen,” she said.
We brushed off her apologies and hugged her tight. Then we went straight to the kitchen and put some water on the stove for tea.
“When did it start?”
“This evening. I took my sweatshirt off and all this hair came with it. So I ran my fingers through my hair and look . . .” She showed us strands that came loose when she combed her fingers through her thick beautiful hair.
“Oh, Claire,” was all either of us could manage. We moved into the living room with our tea and sat on the floor.
“I think I’m going to just go get it chopped off tomorrow before the kids get here.”
“Have you looked at wigs yet?”
“No, I haven’t been able to bring myself to do that. But I guess I have to now.”
“Are you sure you want to cut it off, Claire?”
“There’s no way I am letting my kids see this,” she said quietly. “I guess I have to call the hairdresser in the morning. But even then I just can’t bear the thought of sitting in that chair and watching her chop it all off.”
We were all quiet.
Sarah and I looked at each other.
“Well,” I started hesitantly, “we could do it tonight if you want.”
“I cut Jon’s hair all the time.” Sarah said.
Claire looked up with wide eyes. “Really? Are you serious? You would do that?”
“If you want us to, Claire, we will.”
A look of stubborn defiance came into her brown eyes. “Damn it, let’s do it. I’m gonna control this part. If it’s gonna fall out, I’m gonna control when it happens!”
She got up, placed her hands on her hips, and looked at us daringly. “Come on then.”
Sarah and I looked at each other one more time, uncertain what we’d started but somehow as sure about this as Claire was. If she was going to lose her hair, we would be by her side in whatever way we could. We followed her to the bathroom and laid down towels around the sink. Claire handed me the scissors and gave Sarah the razor. Neither one of us wanted to take the first cut. I gave the scissors to Claire.
“Here. You have to make the first cut, Claire.”
We all looked at our reflections in the bathroom mirror as Claire raised her hand to the middle of her head, lifted up a huge chunk of hair and chopped it off like she was taking charge of a pesky problem.
“There. Let’s do it,” she said.
“How much do you want off?” Sarah asked
“All of it.” There was no question in Claire’s reply.
A slow, mischievious smile crept onto Sarah’s face. “So you want to do anything fun while we’re at it? Any hairstyles you’ve been dying to try?”
“Yeah, like a mohawk or a mullet maybe?” I added, grinning.
“What the heck, let’s do it all, girls. We can take pictures, and I’ll send them to Henry. That should give him a good laugh at the church office,” Claire said.
The air was heavy with the weight of what we were doing and humor lifted things a little. I couldn’t help feeling a little bit of awe and gratitude that I was able to share in this moment with Claire, that I was able to share this with Sarah. We had all met at church just over a year ago—Annie and her twin sister, Holly, Lauren, Renee, Claire, Sarah, and me—and we had spent the past fourteen months fostering unbelievably deep and nurturing friendships.
Sarah and I took turns cutting chunks of hair off, fashioning Claire’s mohawk and mullet. Claire stopped us at one point and ran to get her camera. We posed for pictures, extending our arms to get self-portraits of the three of us, laughing hysterically at our bad barber techniques.
It wasn’t until Sarah started the razor that the laughing subsided. We looked again at our reflections in the mirror: Claire sitting on the stool, Sarah and I hovering over her, her head patchy with chopped-up hair, the chunks all over the floor, the strands all over the sink, the razor buzzing in Sarah’s hand. That was when the weeping started—three pairs of eyes suddenly brimming with tears, lips biting, hands reaching for tissues. We shaved Claire’s entire head bald that night in her bathroom. Later, I described that midnight shaving to Henry as holy ground. It felt sacred and ordinary all at once.
Enuma Okoro is an award-winning author of three books on the call and challenge to the spiritual life. Embracing the classic spiritual traditions, the contemporary arts, and her uniquely diverse global and cultural background, Enuma writes and speaks on numerous issues based off of three key areas: 1. Spiritual formation, growth and holistic wellness, 2. Women and the transformative power of personal narratives, and 3. Identity and Belonging in a diverse world. Follow Enuma online at www.enumaokoro.com, through her blog http://www.patheos.com/blogs/enumaokoro/, and Twitter @tweetenuma. Her new book Silence, is now available for pre-order.