I opened my eyes slowly. I realized I was face-down on my bed, and the late afternoon sun poured through the windows. I blinked, and squinted, and tried to make out the time on the digital clock. It was 3:40 in the afternoon. I tapped the nightstand next to me and hoped to find my glasses. I put them on carefully, and the room snapped into focus.
Slowly, I made my way into my kitchen, opened the fridge, and took out a mug of cold coffee. I wrapped both hands around the mug and took a sip. I willed the vague feelings of nausea to fade. I hadn’t been sleeping well, but “tired” is too weak a word to adequately describe how I felt. I spent this spring counseling students and dealing with other demands of my job, caring for my children, worried about my parents, concerned for our economy, horrified by the acts of violence erupting throughout the country. I am troubled by the knowledge that some former students are still dealing with their painful pasts. I am afraid of what September will bring.
I looked over to an old blue sponge resting near my kitchen sink. I empathized with that sponge. I felt wrung out and dried up and worn at the edges, too. I thought I had nothing left to give. Unlike the sponge, I cannot be replaced. Over my Shabbat candles each week, I prayed for the strength to push on.
My hands slid over my face, and my fingers tangled in my thick hair. It had gotten long over the past months, and now it nearly hit my waist. I thought back to the morning three years ago when I cut it all off in a short bob. I donated almost ten inches of hair to an organization that makes wigs for bald children.
It felt good to help a stranger. I would never meet the little girl that would ultimately wear my hair, but I imagined a girl that loved Uno and knock-knock jokes, like my daughters. I hoped that my donation helped make a wig that made her feel confident and happy.
I wanted to feel happier, too. I tried to think of my next steps. I idly twirled my hair around my fingers, and suddenly realized where I could start.
I opened the cabinet and located a tape measure. I used an elastic band and pulled my hair back into a loose ponytail. I measured the length, and I was satisfied by the number. It was long enough.
I texted my cousin, a talented hairdresser that lives nearby. I told her what I’ve planned. I asked if she’d help me. She answered immediately. “Of course!”
The day of my appointment arrived. I sat down in the salon chair and I looked in the mirror. My mask covered most of my face, but it could not hide the dark circles under my eyes. I waited patiently as my hair was separated into sections and tied up with rubber bands. Silver scissors flashed under fluorescent lights. My cousin started to work, and the unique sound of hair meeting a blade filled the room. She washed, cut, and styled my shorter hair. I thanked her with an elbow bump.
As I stepped outside, a breeze tickled my neck. My hair moved when I moved, and I had forgotten that hair could do that. I was used to it draped around my face like a dark curtain. My heavy hair mirrored the year’s stressors, dragging me down with its weight. It was gone now and secured in a Ziplock bag. I thought of the envelope, check, and the donation form, all patiently waiting to be mailed.
I envisioned the wig that my hair and financial contribution would help create. I thought of the little girl that would wear it. I felt this act of tzedekah start to heal me. The sadness and the stress of the past months slowly started to fade. I took a slow, deep breath, then another. I raised my face to the sunshine. I smiled.