Monday, September 07, 2009
No greater love
First of all, you should know that I have Ms. Conory's permission to print this picture of her - and, tell this story.
It was taken late this afternoon at the local community pool where we had gathered for one last neighborhood Labor Day party before the pool closes for the season.
Next, you should know that this is part of why I've loved her for the last 33 years.
For those of you who don't know, Ms. Conroy lost her hair almost three years ago due to "Alopecia areata" which, for her, came about as part of a form of an auto immune disease.
Her mother and grandmother had it. Her son developed it when he was six years old.
When she first started to lose her hair, it was devastating. Simply devastating. I can't begin to imagine what it was like for her, and I walked every step of the way - every lost strand of hair - with her. I wrote about it here, in February, 2007.
It's been a pretty rough go, with bouts of depression that were simply awful, but you know, something happened when she got the wig that was made from the hair grown by six of us at St. Paul's that was transformational.
We call it "The Love Wig." It looks fabulous on her. If you didn't know her, you'd think it was her own hair. I suspect that, putting that much love on your head every morning can be amazingly healing.
Ironically, shortly after she got the wig, she started appearing, more and more, without it. Oh, she LOVES it and wears it to work and to church, but other than that, she just wears a baseball cap around town. She is usually bald around the house.
I don't know what it was, but something about having that "Love Wig" freed her to be without hair.
Last winter, when I would look up into the choir loft - which can get Very Hot - I would discover that she had pulled off her wig. What was really amazing to me was that, if anyone in the choir was fazed by it, they certainly didn't show it.
Truth be told, it is a bit startling when you first see her totally bald head, but then, Ms. Conroy's total acceptance of herself provides a place where others can find their own acceptance.
It's a fascinating process to watch.
One of the mothers of one of the little girls in this picture was recently diagnosed with breast cancer. She is scheduled to have a 'port-a-cath' surgically inserted tomorrow so she can begin 18 weeks of chemo, followed by 6 weeks of radiation.
Her parents have been preparing her for the loss of her mother's hair, so she and her little friend were especially curious about Ms. Conroy's hair loss.
She has known Ms. Conroy all of the five years of her life; the other one has come to know Ms. Conroy at the pool this summer. They know what she looks like when she wears the wig as well as when she doesn't and just has on a baseball cap. But, they've never seen her bald.
One of them asked if Ms. Conroy would take off her hat so she could see what "bald" looked like. "Sure," said Ms. Conroy, and flipped off her hat right then and there.
The two little girls giggled nervously, as if they - or she, they weren't exactly sure - had done something wrong.
One of the girls stared directly at Ms. Conroy's breasts and then asked, hesitantly, "But, you are a girl, aren't you?"
"She's a LADY," said the other, I suppose out of deference to Ms. Conroy's age.
"Yes," said Ms. Conroy, "That's right. I'm a lady."
The little girl looked a bit confused for a second - the adults later jokingly referred to this as a 'transgender moment' - and then declared, "Then you should have hair! I know! We'll draw you some hair!"
Off they went to collect their box of sidewalk chalk. Before we knew it, both girls were very busy drawing pink, green and yellow curls in chalk on Ms. Conroy's head.
You can't see it, but it was really quite magnificent. A virtual labor of love. In the giving and in the receiving.
The child's mother who will soon be bald herself was deeply, deeply grateful, knowing that this will make it so much easier for her young daughter to accept her mother's eventual baldness.
We were clear that she understood that her mother's hair loss was not permanent, unlike Ms. Conroy's. "That's, okay," said the child. "I'll can still give her chalk hair."
Jesus said, "No greater love has a man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends."
I suspect, if Jesus came back as a woman with Alopecia areata, s/he might say, "No greater love has a woman than this, that she lay down her bald head for her friends."
And, it would be so.