I began last January 2019 with an extraordinary adventure: a trip to India for the Kumbh Mehla. The largest spiritual gathering on the planet, the one I attended attracted over 179 million pilgrims over six weeks to a temporary tent city in Allahabad, where everyone was immersed in ever constant ritual and chanting, such that even the simplest aspects of life seemed extraordinary.
I chose to undergo a very personal ritual head shaving by an Indian barber who was brought into our guru’s camp. He shaved my and the heads of others who chose the ritual by using nothing more than water and a single straight blade. Pretty intense. After it was over I felt quite odd and vulnerable with my egg-shaped dome of a head. But later in the day, after being blessed in a ceremonial ritual by Her Holiness Sai Maa Lakshmi Devi -- the first woman of her lineage to be declared Jagadguru in 2500 years -- I felt radiant and filled with light and beauty far beyond explanation.
By December 2019 I found myself yet again a pilgrim on the unexpected journey of cancer. As with many pilgrimages this is not an easy one and I am learning much about myself and the world around me in -- to paraphrase a passage in Lamentations of the Hebrew bible -- new ways every morning; great is my faithfulness.
I am bald again. I suppose one could say that this too has been a personal choice, decided upon accepting chemo-theraphy as a very taxing partner to my healing.
After being told my hair was going to fall out, I’d read that it was often less of an emotional shock to proactively shave one’s head rather than having hair fall out in clumps (or thinning in patches as was the case for me). I also suspected that intentionally shaving my head in these circumstances was a way of claiming a small modicum of control with a proactive response to a situation that felt so greatly beyond my control.
I went with a companion to see my barber, Bobby Pearson, of Blessings Barber Shop here in Durham, and asked him to shave what was left of my hair. I told him why, then removed my hat and with wells of compassion in his big brown eyes as he looked at my patchy head, he very movingly agreed. Using his sanitized electric razor and ointments, in the western way I became bald again. I gazed in the mirror at my egg-shaped dome of a head, and once again felt quite vulnerable. This pilgrim had hit some rough terrain on her path.
I do not know how radiant or light-filled I will feel in the coming days. But as I remember Bobby and my companion’s encouraging presence during this second ritual of becoming bald, I know I’ll be alright. Great is my faithfulness that blessings will continue to abound. And the light will be there even as I might need to come to know it in newer ways.