It seems that time truly is flying before my eyes. It feels like just yesterday I was an anxious and hopeful freshman desiring to understand and master the illusive world of college. Now as a senior, I’m still hopeful and anxious, but a bit more confident.
Every day I feel enticed by nostalgia and reminisce on my experiences here at Maryville College. Recently, I’ve been reflecting on my spiritual growth. I’ve been able to understand my spiritual journey by way of my hair. Let me explain.
In the fall of my freshman year, I made the choice to go natural which means I stopped chemically straightening my hair. This decision, while wildly liberating, was also threatening and frightening.
My hair was (and still is) a big part of my Identity. Coming from a suburban, homogenous, Caucasian influenced upbringing, having hair that looked straight, flowy and moderately long allowed me to have movement up the social ladder of my middle and high school bureaucracy.
Many of my role models growing up were white people so naturally I saw God as white too. Because I wanted to be close to God and feel close to God’s likeness, having an appearance that looked appropriately Caucasian, seemed like a way for me to please God and fall upon God’s favor.
Every 6 weeks when my mom would apply the relaxer I would feel euphoric and my confidence would grow. I could feel the illusory veil between me and God lift. This was my sacrifice, or rather my cross to bear. Looking the way that was accepted was my way of serving God.
If I looked “normal” enough maybe people would see beyond the barrier of my race and understand my humanity. Maybe they would understand my desire to be good and worthy.
Fast forward to move in day my freshman year. To take a break from the moving and swirling emotions, I sat in the lobby of Davis Hall to catch my breath. It was there that I saw a pretty brown girl walk into the foyer. She was wearing a t shirt that said, “my black is beautiful” across the front. Her head was shaved and curly. She was captivating.
This young woman who walked into Davis represented something in my life that I wanted to attain desperately –Freedom! If she could feel so comfortable in her own black skin, maybe I could too. Her presence had a movement of spirit and transformation. And that movement was exactly what I was yearning for.
After a few weeks of debating I decided to let my hair go natural. This journey came with a lot of confusion, heartbreak, tears and explanation. Now as I am approaching my 3 year hair anniversary in November, I’m happy with my choice. The choice of radical acceptance.
Don’t get me wrong, this journey hasn’t been all peaches and cream. More than once I’ve been compared to the countenance of Whoppi Goldberg. I have broken approximately 12 combs and people often pet my hair and say it looks like a fluffy catlike animal. But I guess acceptance comes with patience too.
This acceptance mirrors my spiritual experience too. I used to be accustomed to having an answer for all issues of life, metaphysical and personal. I never could accept anything that was confusing or challenging. God was constant and explainable and my identity was the same.
As my hair grows into its fullness, so have my concepts of God. God can be unpredictable, difficult to understand, confusing and dense. God can be unruly, complicated and unique. But just like my hair on a good, low humidity day, God can be soft and full. God can be warm and encasing. God can be suitable and reassuring. God can be freeing.
In unique ways, all of us are hoping to let our proverbial hair down and feel good about our unique contribution to this world. Beyond the aesthetic of our looks, I believe the mark of humanity is the desire to love and to be loved back.
God meets us where we are and stays alongside us through all of life’s toils and twists. This year I’m going to try my best to be unashamedly me. My hope is that many may follow on this path with me. Whether that be through loving your body better or telling someone the truth of what they mean to you.
Whether it is through letting your voice be heard or wearing your favorite color, it is my prayer that someone out there might know that sweet freedom that comes from accepting one’s story. God doesn’t look a certain way. God loves us all for how we are, and there is no right way to be. That is something worth celebrating.