Close to the Neck

For many years my barber has been my wonderful wife with her hair buzzer. When I was a child my father would buzz all my hair off in the tropical heat, leaving me with toe-head peach fuzz. My wife is quite a bit more sophisticated than that, but this time when it was time for a mowing she sent me to the Silver Clippers here in town. It’s the first professional hair-cut I’ve had for a very long time. I had my hair and beard shorn down to size.

The young man who attended to me was respectful and gentle, and, though he took off just a touch more than I anticipated, did a fine job. As he tilted my head back to buzz off the extra whisker length I was touched by his gentleness. It was surprisingly intimate, really. He was awfully close to very vulnerable parts of me, this total stranger, for there I was, sitting quietly draped, letting him take a sharp object to my neck. It was almost like being in the doctor’s office, or even surgery, but less formal, and I am reminded that barbers and doctors were, in medieval times, the same trade. Both attended the needs of the body. Both got to know you better than most due only to their profession. Both required a certain kind of vulnerability by trade.

It reminds me also of my priesthood, where people assume a one-sided intimacy in my office, telling me things that only the walls and my heart hear, and hopefully leaving with a bit more hope, answers or comfort than when they came in.

The barber’s gentleness was a kind of priesting of my face, and I am grateful for his pastoral skill. In his youth he taught me.

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