The corn is well past knee-high but it isn’t quite time to reap what’s been sown. Fortunately, I’m not talking about the corn. I’m actually talking about my hair. It’s under new ownership. The photo accompanying this column is no longer accurate and I may even be able to blend into a crowd once in awhile.
In fact, it’s shorter now than it was on my first day at the Daily Reporter. It’s just kept growing since then and people I’m sure many people equated me with the tuft of red atop my head. Frankly, it’s probably not the only thing I’ve been equated with over the years. Long hair means you’re a drug user. Long hair means you’re a hippy. Long hair means you drive a Prius. Long hair means you’re too poor to get a haircut. Long hair means you’re too lazy to get a haircut.
Well, actually that last one is how this all got started for me. I was a college sophomore and my coursework kept me pretty busy. Haircuts weren’t something I was actively trying to work into my schedule. Christmas break came and I finally took the time to get a trim. Since I didn’t want to worry about it again for awhile, I decided to have it cut as short as I could stand. The hair stylist took a look at what I had and told me my hair seemed long enough for a donation to Locks of Love.
If you’re not familiar with Locks of Love, it’s a company that makes natural hair wigs for children who have lost their hair during cancer treatment. What she said set my hair apart was not only its color, but it’s condition. I didn’t use any styling products, which meant it wasn’t damaged in ways many people’s hair is. Most people know that certain products, curling irons and blowdrying can damage your hair. What most people don’t know is if you send damaged hair to companies like Locks of Love, or Wigs for Kids, it’s probably going to be thrown out. They can’t use it.
My sophomore-self had inadvertently stumbled on a simple way to serve others. My hair’s unintended rarity was something someone less fortunate than I needed and it wasn’t hard for me to produce or part with. Since then, I’ve donated about four times. It takes about a year-and-a-half to two years for me to get the minimum required length for donation. That’s can be quite a while to commit to a look that some liken to bad character or hygiene. In fact, there’s been a couple times I cut my donation plans short — no pun intended.
At least twice, I cut my hair off before it was ripe, because I needed a job. I’m well aware people are skeptical of hiring a man with shoulder-length locks. I mean, if Five Man Electrical Band taught us anything it’s that “The sign said ‘Long-haired freaky people need not apply.’” Ok, bad example. That’s just playing into the long-haired-psychedelic-hippie stereotype. But it’s got the ring of truth to it. There’s a stubborn perception out there.
Reactions are the same every time I tell someone I donate my hair: surprise. It’s a surprise because intent is invisible. Now, it’s usually a joyful surprise, like telling someone you regularly donate blood, but a surprise none the less. It’s a surprise because the reality wasn’t quite plumb with the perception. Reality endures. Perception doesn’t. Explaining why my hair sometimes drops past my collar bone somehow makes my hair more acceptable to some. Yet, the reality of my intent didn’t change. Perception did. We donors have to realize, in order to do what we feel is right and good, there will be long stretches of time when we’re thought of as something we aren’t.
In order to help a stranger, we may be inaccurately labeled by people we see everyday.
We silently carry the labels — drugee, hippie, alternative school student, progressive liberal, hacky sack enthusiast — all the while knowing we’re helping a young cancer patient. And we know the labels aren’t accurate. We know what we are. We’re donors. We reap what we sow. That’s true of everyone. We’re in a continual cycle of giving and receiving from one another. Some of us may be receivers now and, in time, we will need to give of ourselves — literally or figuratively — so others can continue on and sow what will become another year’s harvest.