I believe everything that lives must die. That this life is my one chance to be born, to see, to learn, and to love. Sometimes this seems to me to be a bleak philosophy, offering no hope and no future except a downward spiral into old age and death. Then, something will happen to remind me of the immortality I can achieve with love and kindness.
In October, my son, a senior in high school, came home with head lice. We began the delousing routines and soon banished the pests. The procedure began with wet hair and crème rinse. He sat in a chair as I sectioned his hair and combed each section, then pinned it up away from the working area. I was very careful not to pull his hair or scratch his scalp. During the two weeks of the treatments, we became more comfortable and had great conversations. I was surprised to find that I enjoyed the process of combing my son’s hair, even though it was exacting and tedious.
Only recently did I recall a memory from my childhood that explains much of the pleasure I felt.
In the 1950s and early sixties, it was the fashion in my neighborhood to use a “home perm” to curl the hair of little girls. The hours-long “home perm” procedure was torture to me: I was an impatient, tomboyish child.
I remember one “home perm” session especially well because of an unusual word. I was 7 or 8 and an avid reader of fairy tales and legends. My aunt Anne and I got set up for the seesion. Anne patiently, gently began winding the curlers into my wet hair. I whined and complained as usual. One of the harder tugs brought me to real tears, and my aunt Anne apologized and said “Will you forgive me?”. I was surprised into speechlessness. I had never heard the word “forgive” used in conversation. “Forgive” was something Norse gods did in the stories I read.
Although at the time I thought my aunt was mean, now I see that she loved me and was very kind, willing to spend hours with a rebellious, loud, and restless child. Through her hands and voice, I learned that hair grooming can be done with care, gentleness, and love. This love and care was transferred almost unchanged to my son, through my hands and voice. My aunt died years ago, but she was alive and with us in October.
I believe that everything that lives must die. I will not be granted a second life. For me, this one life has been at times lonely, painful, or even despairing. But I have had happiness and believe there is a kind of immortality.
In my life, I have received much kindness and love. When I can give kindness and love to another, I have touched a life. That touch, that love, will continue after I die.
I believe that everything living will die. Except love.
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