When Holiday Gratitude Blows In On A Cold Wind
By Stephen C. Schultz
The arctic blast had settled in...17 degrees Fahrenheit and I was walking down the street yesterday to get my hair cut. At the time, it didn't seem like such a good idea. I've heard that the quickest way to lose body heat is through your head. That’s why a beanie or stocking cap is a good thing in cold weather. Here I was, consciously cutting off what “insulation” I still had!
I leaned forward into the brisk wind and continued on my way down the street. I had some errands to run and it was a tight schedule. I had called ahead of time and the young lady who usually cuts my hair was unavailable, so I took the next person on the list to be assigned a “Walk In”.
It’s the front end of the Holiday Season and I was going to be out of town this week. I would be back home in time for Thanksgiving, but it was a tight schedule. So, this was truly the only time I had to get this done over the next week and a half.
I stepped to the door, head down, and turned the doorknob. The little bell hanging above the door announced my arrival as the door swung open. Nobody noticed. Conversations seemed to originate at the back of the building, slowly building and cascading forward past each stall, picking up the dull roar of conversation as hair product fragrance filled the air. It then seemed to dump right at the front counter. I stepped to the counter and gave my name. There was a pause, a check of the database and a soft spoken “just a moment” as the young woman turned and walked away.
This was turning into a bad experience quickly…and it hadn't even really begun. I was frustrated because of my tight schedule, the person I usually have cut my hair wasn't available, the weather sucked and the customer service at the front counter was less than desirable.
The girl from the counter came back to the lobby with another young lady and introduced us. I followed her to the stall and sat in the chair. She seemed a little timid and nervous. I thought to myself,
“Great…I get the new one right out of school.”
She asked how I usually have my hair cut. (I wear it short, not quite a crew cut, but messed up with gel…not real complicated.)
We finally got it figured out that she would cut about a ½ inch off and trim up the back and sides. She reached for the clippers and the cord was in a huge tangle. She stood awkwardly trying to get the cord untangled, moving the prongs through loops and wrapping the cord forwards and backwards. Once it was untangled, she plugged it in and moved closer to me only to realize she had not put the drape thing over me. So, she reached forward to put down the clippers and simultaneously leaned in front of me to grab the drape thing.
She asked if I wanted my hair washed and at this point I simply said, “No thank you”.
I knew that would only be one more opportunity for “Chaos Theory” to continue its ugly rampage through my already busy day!
I was now settled in and she started to comb through my hair. The scissors made that snipping sound. Her fingers trembled and she meekly asked,
“So, are you from around here?”
My mind screamed, “Oh, you have got to be kidding me!!!!”
Why is small talk a necessity when you get your hair cut? Is there any reason to drag a 5 minute process into 10 or 15 minutes? I then simply mentioned that I was from town…and I closed my eyes.
As I sat there with my eyes closed and hair fluttering down my forehead at the sound of each snip, I thought about her nervousness. I wondered why? Was she new? What brought her to this place in time? Had her day run parallel to my own? Was it me? I reviewed in my mind my own behavior and what I may have been portraying in a non verbal way.
I didn't know where this was headed, but I decided to reach out. I opened my eyes and asked her where she was from. She looked at me in the mirror. She said she lived here locally but was from Oklahoma City. She mentioned that she had moved out here for school and that her husband was attending the local university studying accounting. She seemed to calm a bit and I found myself having a nice conversation with this young lady. She finished my hair cut and I paid at the counter, leaving her a nice tip.
I walked out through the door, bell ringing once again and headed down the sidewalk towards my car. Even though my hair was shorter, I didn't even notice the cold air on my scalp. My mind was caught up in that brief interaction. No more than 15 minutes and I had learned a lifetimes worth of knowledge.
During the Holidays, we tend to be focused on external things…the meal at Thanksgiving…the lights, parades, presents and Santa at Christmas. But, do we demonstrate gratitude for those more subtle aspects of the Holidays? Do we recognize the importance of a smile? Do we appreciate the opportunity to hold a door open for a mom and dad carrying two little children in their arms as they enter a store? What about a simple, but kind conversation with a timid hair stylist? It’s the human interactions and relationships that are lasting. Meals and toys and sweaters, while necessary, all fade with history and time. It’s the genuine kindness and positive regard for others that keeps us connected as a society, community and family. And…what I learned yesterday… was that it all starts with me!