Archives for posts with tag: bald

For Thanksgiving of 2000, I traveled to Washington, D.C., to spend time with family who had congregated there. It was a blessed respite from all the running around I seemed to be doing, and I longed to curl up in the corner and just be.

When I arrived, my sister-in-law, Amy, was just finishing reading a new book written by Shirley MacLaine called, The Camino: A Journey of the Spirit. There was a striking photograph on the cover: a small Shirley from a distance, with backpack and walking stick. We all passed the book around and devoured it with glee. As I read, I would spend long hours on the road with Shirley, and then copy passages into my journal, ways in which I connected with the thoughts she was writing about and the transformation she was undergoing. It occurred to me then that walking an ancient path along a holy energy site was something I would do, too. But the thought of traveling 500 miles on foot was daunting, to say the least. I said to myself maybe I’d do it for my 40th birthday, still five years away. It was a romantic idea and blessedly far into the future.

Funny thing about time: it keeps unfolding, and so five years passed. I kept wondering if I’d really do it. I was drawn to it as an idea, as a part of my personal story, something to tell people I’d done. The actual doing of it seemed frightening to me. But since I’m attracted to pursuing things that frighten me, I held it out as a possibility, if not a reality. I tried it on a bit, floated it as an idea among friends and decided that if I committed to the idea by telling people, there’d be no turning back. I didn’t tell a lot of people though, just in case. And I had an out. I’d broken my ankle, undergone surgery, and if I decided not to walk the 500 miles, I could blame it on chronic ankle pain.

There was another idea I was trying on, too.

Years ago, my friend Sandy was going through a divorce, and as a way of releasing the old in order to re-emerge anew, she decided to shave her head. I listened with awe to her process of shedding her identity and her feelings of empowerment by this act of defiance and strength. I felt myself drawn to doing the same thing. It was an idea, and as I traveled a timeline toward 40, these two ideas came together – shaving my head and walking across Spain.

Somewhere around August of 2004 it occurred to me that I could begin growing my hair as long as possible only to cut it all off and donate it to someone with cancer who had no hair. Another romantic idea, and the hatching of a plan.

I’ve never been bald before. I was born with a lot of hair and for the majority of my life, it’s been long and full and blond and lush. People have always commented on and coveted my hair. And so it seemed to be just the thing to give up, along with comfort and familiarity and language and responsibility and materialism. To expose my head as I exposed the deepest parts of myself in this month-long “journey of the spirit” seemed to root me into the reality and excitement of marking a transition, not just in terms of time and age but more powerfully symbolic of a new beginning within. And having told so many people was not just helping hold me to my commitment but also a way of understanding how vital it is that we share ourselves and our intentions so that others open a space and help us transform ideas into realities.

On Valentine’s Day of 2005, I pulled 18 inches of blond mane into two ponytails, braided them tightly, took a deep breath and cut them off.

I thought it was going to be a disaster and that the next year of my life would be a painful process of regrowth. I wasn’t quite prepared to be not just enamored by the way I looked, but completely in love with my bald head. It might be the first time I truly ever saw my face.

And I think it is my best look ever.

Before leaving for Spain, I traveled to New York to visit friends. The Christo exhibit of orange flags in Central Park greeted me. And one night, I did an amazing thing. I took a bath. At night. I had rarely taken baths at night because I didn’t want to deal with my wet hair before going to bed. But one night, late, all I wanted to do was soak in the tub and crawl into bed.

I lay in that water for a hour. It was so incredible. All the lights were off, only the flickering light of a candle lit the room.

There was a razor on the edge of the tub. I had used clippers the shave off my long locks, but it left stubbles and now there was new growth from a few days. So I sat in there in the warm water, and lathered up with shaving cream. I closed my eyes and just kept feeling the pattern of growth and all the different directions my hair grows out of my head. And I shaved my head to go against the grain, all the while keeping my eyes closed. It felt sacred. Beautiful. Some kind of rite of passage. It took me at least a half hour. And with each stroke, my head felt like glass.

The touch of my hand on my bare head. The transfer of heat. All the new sensations.

This head, mine. I lay back in the water and held my head, cradling it. I felt as though I was a baby coming out of the womb.

(This story is part of a continuing series based on my adventures walking 500 miles across Northern Spain on the ancient pilgrimage route El Camino de Santiago. The first part begins here.)

I’d specifically chosen Valentine’s Day as the day to shave my head because I wanted the act to be one of love. I wasn’t just doing it to learn something about myself; I was giving my hair as a gift to someone whom I would never meet: I was donating it to Locks of Love, an organization that provides children suffering from long-term medical hair loss with what they call “hair prosthetics.” It brought me comfort knowing that it would at least be appreciated and cared for.

In the weeks leading up to Valentine’s Day, I couldn’t stop thinking about my hair. I’d never thought about it so much in my life, certainly not with longing and goodbye. I’d mostly taken it for granted. But knowing it would soon be gone—ALL gone—I kept getting teary eyed. I also had the strange sensation that I was completing a cycle. The first time I cut my long hair into a bob was out of anger. I was young, about seven, and I unconsciously decided that it was my hair that made me a girl and made me look like a girl. So I cut it all off in the aftermath of sexual abuse.

Then, oddly enough, I grew it long again during those sexually curious years of high school and college. I used it, however, to take attention away from my face. I didn’t know how to have beauty, or have a beautiful face—I couldn’t hear that. But I could have beautiful hair; that was okay with me; that was somehow less personal.

It struck me—the idea that having no hair would allow something else to emerge. I thought:

God, I wonder if I’m ready to show my face now. At 40. Has it taken me this long to show my face?


(This story is part of a continuing series based on my adventures walking 500 miles across Northern Spain on the ancient pilgrimage route El Camino de Santiago. The first part begins here.)

First stop, New York.

I stayed with my friend Brenda in her incredible apartment just off Lincoln Center overlooking the park. I had arrived the same week that the Gates of New York had gone up. I watched from the window, at least twenty floors above the trees, as the supports were laid out on the paths lining the park. And then suddenly, Central Park was alive in orange drapery. It was stunning, especially offset by the snow.

On my first night in New York, I stayed up late, still on West Coast time. I decided to take a bath. While I love baths, I didn’t take very many of them late at night because I always had too much hair I didn’t want to dry before going to bed. But on that night, I had no hair; what I had was a few days of stubble.

Brenda had set out all the bath salts and candles for me. The room filled with steam as I lit the candles and lined the tub with them. I got in the hot, aromatic water and began to shave my legs. Brenda had shaving cream in a bucket and the combination of it along with a new, high-end razor left my skin silky and radiant. So I decided to shave my head with it. I closed my eyes and began slowly, tentative. I noticed that my hair grew in circles from the crown radiating outward. I’d never known that. Following the pattern of hair growth and shaving each follicle was like reading Braille. It was also a bit like a dance. I’d trace along the stubble with my fingers and follow behind with the razor. Around and around my head. Eyes closed. Trancelike. Almost drunk with wonder.

(This story is part of a continuing series based on my adventures walking 500 miles across Northern Spain on the ancient pilgrimage route El Camino de Santiago. The first part begins here.)

Next stop, Exeter, on the River Exe in Devon, England.

I got abundant, restful sleep for most of the night all stretched out in my reclining business-class seat and tucked in with my business-class blanket—only my sweet, bald head exposed.

There was a rabbi sitting in the seat behind me, a big, barrel-shaped guy who’d just stepped out of Yentl with his long, prehistoric beard and suspenders.

Somewhere on our approach to Heathrow as breakfast was being prepared, he came to speak to me. He stood, towering above me and filling up the aisle. “I didn’t get to talk with you last night,” he said. “I didn’t want to wake you.”

I looked up at him cautiously.

He said he was curious about me: about where I live and where I was going. I was evasive at first, not wanting to be picked at, but he picked at me, and I eventually told him about my month ahead, that I’d be walking an ancient pilgrimage route across Spain.

His eyes lit up. “Oh, then I must tell you of the curse in Spain.”

Sure, I need to know about curses in Spain.

It seems that Spain was once a land of the Jews, many of whom were killed during the Inquisition. Those who remained were forced to convert to Catholicism, which they did only to put on appearances while they continued to practice Judaism in private. “When the last of the Jews left,” my rabbi told me, “they put a curse on the land. Those of us who are most orthodox will never set foot in Spain.”

I nodded in understanding. “When I get there, I’ll pray for you.”

He smiled. “I wish it were that easy.” He stooped down closer, more reverently. “There is much blood from my people in Spain.”

Where is there not blood from your people? I thought. But instead I said, “Well, I fancy myself as having a direct line,” I pointed to the heavens. “And by the time I walk across the place, that curse’ll be gone; I’m sure of it.” I was feeling a little feisty. Are you not supposed to talk to an aging rabbi that way?