The Light Between Us

BaldOne love, one blood, one life, you got to do what you should
One life with each other,  Sisters, Brothers
One life, but we’re not the same, we get to carry each other
Carry each other

One, Bono and U2

She doesn’t even know them, not personally, anyway.  Connected by three degrees of separation, she’s a friend of a neighbor of the family; a mom, a dad and two sons, leading ordinary lives until a handful of weeks ago when a shocking diagnosis up-ended their world.  She doesn’t know them, but no matter; she, too, is a mother, and that’s enough.  Today she’ll shave her head for an 8-year-old boy she’s never met.

Movie-star gorgeous, she sits tall and poised, though her hands shake in her lap.  She’s ready to be bald; a statement of undeniable solidarity. Her long, silky, light-brown tresses are gathered into ponytails that sprout from her head, Medusa-like; her gift made double by the endowment of the hair itself to children who have lost theirs.  Children like Aiden.

On a stage under bright lights, she looks out over the darkened room, squinting.  The live music venue’s typical night crowd is replaced this Saturday morning with people of all ages and the place is packed. Food vendors and silent auction items line the walls.  Barely enough room to move, little ones are carried and bigger children held by the hand as their parents edge past others to congregate up front.  Suspense hangs in the air as the clock ticks down to show time.  The community has shown up, expecting to give their support.  What they don’t expect is how much they will receive.

In the spotlight, three other mothers sit on folding chairs, draped in plastic capes snapped at the back of their necks.  The first lives next-door to the family, grown close over years as neighbors will, by the proximity of their shared lives; a drink in the driveway after work, a rant of parenting frustrations, a new gardening idea or remodeling project, a sick child.  Dark brown wavy hair hangs past her shoulders and bangs frame her pretty face.  Brushing a tear from the corner of her eye, she blinks her long eye lashes; extensions that, along with big earrings, will soon accessorize her new look.

Another woman’s hair, thick and black, is divided into segments to be shorn and shipped to Locks of Love.  She smiles broadly and her exuberance emanates from the stage.  Her son and Aiden are best friends; her family and his are neighbors across the street.  The boys went to school, camped  and rode scooters together until recently when one of them was stricken with stage 4 Medulloblastoma.

It started with headaches that worsened.  Doctor appointments revealed nothing conclusive, but Aiden’s parents persisted.  Asking questions, insisting on more investigation, tests and more tests were performed and finally, a 2 ½ inch tumor resting on his brain stem was discovered along with other masses in his brain and tumors on his spine.  The family had their answer: a rare and aggressive form of cancer, and with it a new reality; a surreal one filled with surgery and hospitalizations, drugs and ports, and finding the best treatment options available, and relocating far from home to get it.

They’re Skyping today from his hospital room.  Technical difficulties threaten to thwart success and the disappointment is palpable when the connection drops.  After a few more tries, suddenly, there is Aiden, larger than life, yet with a vulnerability that makes him appear small.  Cheers go up from the throng when the lovable little boy comes into view.  Mom and Dad are there, too, leaning into the camera, smiling their gratitude.  The screen is flanked by the shavees who are blowing their kisses and shouting their hellos. With the family’s presence preparations are complete:  it can begin.  Excitement buzzes through the audience as people whisper their amazement to one another, “They’re so brave.  I could never do it.”   And who do they speak of?  It could be said of any of them.

Something magical begins to happen; a synergy beyond description.  And it is the last woman on stage who has made it happen.  She was an acquaintance, a friend of a neighbor, who socialized with the family casually at barbecues and birthday parties.  For years she knew that one day she’d make this choice, for many reasons and many people, not the least of whom is her own mother who died with no hair on her head after enduring not one, but two cancers.  And the cruelest truth is this: the second cancer was caused by the curing of the first.  This woman, colorful from her sassy chin-length brunette mane streaked with red and purple, to her shining eyes and dimples etched deeply into her round cheeks, radiates joie de vivre even when her voice quivers with emotion during her welcome speech.

She initially envisioned this as a dare; a fun, gutsy campaign culminating in a bold public display that would garner cash, cold and hard, for the family in need. “How much would you pay?” she queried. The other three joined in, issuing their challenge: “What are you willing to give to this family if we are willing to cut off all our hair?”

Who wouldn’t admire them enough to donate money, based on their chutzpah alone?  But a movement was born; the rallying of a community around one family.  Efforts expanded as more and more people volunteered, good people who wanted to do something meaningful.  Besides these four, at the end of the day, dozens of others, women and men, mothers and fathers and uncles, even Aiden’s classmates—both girls and boys—will have stepped up and joined the ranks of the hairless to say, “We’re with you.”

On stage, they reach out, hand to hand, forming a linked chain, shaking and laughing and blinking back tears.  There’s no turning back.  The time is now.  And as this realization takes hold, the noisy, celebratory atmosphere is charged with a profound undercurrent of intensity and an overtone of the sacred. Enrapt, people find themselves strangely moved to tears; for some, a strong and unexpected reaction.  These mothers are brave; it is no small thing what they do.  It takes guts, but also inspires awe and reverence.  Do they know how brave they are?  Possibly, but they would tell you that their courage pales in comparison to the bravery being asked of one small child.

He could be any of theirs.  This darling boy with liquid brown eyes and a smile to melt a mother’s heart, who likes snow and ice cream and Dr. Pepper; a typical second-grader who loves his family and his dogs.  And his hamster.  A vibrant, happy kid who wants nothing more than to play with his friends and the chance to grow up.  This boy; he is theirs.

With a hairdresser for each, the shearing commences simultaneously.  Razors are set to scalps.  Quick, deft strokes reveal rows of bare skin.  Whoops rise up from the house as sheaths of hair fall to the floor and ponytails are severed like dismembered limbs.  The impact is powerful.  Tears run, unheeded now, down faces, falling to the floor with the locks of hair.  This has become far more than a benefit; it is a sacrament.  The degrees of separation between neighbors and friends and acquaintances, even strangers, merge and blend until no division exists and all are encompassed by a tangible sense of belonging.

Newly shorn, the women huddle, arm-in-arm.  Exhilarated by the fulfillment of their conquest, they laugh through their tears.  In disbelief they can’t resist reaching out to rub each other’s heads, now lightened, the weight of all their hair, gone.  And the translucent image of Aiden and his parents is cast across them all, reflected back to those watching.  Lighter than air, love lifts the heaviest of burdens and illuminates the soul.  Love bares the beautiful, naked truth: no one is ever alone.

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