This week I’m going to write about religion, and how my hair loss affected it.
For years I have stood in front of my congregation for various reasons: receiving Holy Communion, singing in the choir, reading Bible verses aloud, helping with the Sunday Schoolers.
And during every one of these times, I had a moment of fear, worrying that my fellow church-goers would notice my carefully-concealed hair loss. Not judge me because of it, of course, but notice it.
I didn’t want them to notice it.
I always dreaded Ash Wednesday in particular. My heart should have been fixed on my beliefs, on being humble, and on the concept that “from dust we came, to dust we will return.” Instead, I worried, “The pastor will have to brush aside my bangs- what little I have of them- and smear ash on my forehead. He will undoubtedly see the hair loss. He will know my secret.”
In 2016, I was so embarrassed by my hair loss that I didn’t receive the ashes at all, even though I’ve always been touched by the symbolism of it. I should have just “bit the bullet” and received the ashes, but my self-consciousness prevented me from doing it. I was irrationally ashamed of myself for being a coward and for losing my hair. (We’ll talk about hair loss and shame in a future blog post.)
This year, as I walked into the church for Ash Wednesday services I felt more calm than I have in the past. At first I couldn’t put my finger on it, but as I slid into a pew, I realized it: this year, I would receive the ashes without worrying about my hair. With my topette secure and not even slightly noticeable, my priorities were returned to where they should be: on my beliefs and on the symbolism behind the ash. When it was my turn to receive the ash, my pastor brushed my bangs aside with one finger while drawing the cross across my forehead. I was able to appreciate the symbolism, the feel of his finger as it slid across my skin in the shape of a crucifix.
We come from dust, and we will return to it. And I’m sad that I spent so much of this short life worrying that others could see my biggest secret: my hair loss. The fact I no longer have to worry about it brings me more relief than I could convey in words.