As I stood outside of the radio station with my little brown cardboard box in hand, I tried to absorb the words the general manager had just spoken to me… we’re letting you go. It was a more palatable way of saying you’re fired! But, it meant the same thing. The job I loved was gone. My days at the station were over.
It was St. Patrick’s Day. I was wearing lime green boots… (Don’t ask me where I found them)… green slacks and a pale green sweater. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the luck of the Irish that day. I felt like a sledgehammer had come down on my head. I was dazed as my heart pounded and I fought back the tears. This couldn’t be happening to me, I thought to myself. The brown cardboard box contained all of my office belongings, notepads, books, pencils, family pictures, paperweights, and a rolodex. I wondered, is this all I have to show for my six years of loyalty, hard work, and good ratings? I tried to process the events of the last hour. I was sitting in the general manager’s office watching his lips move, then I wasn’t. I was in the newsroom packing my box, then I wasn’t. I was a fulltime employee, then I wasn’t. I stood outside numb and confused for maybe five minutes … maybe forty minutes. I don’t know. Time seemed to be moving at a pace I didn’t recognize. Nothing made sense. Nothing in my small universe was in divine order.
As the days passed, I slowly began to face my new reality. Change had unexpectedly come knocking on my door and I was forced to let it in. As part of the change, I decided to take the micro braids out of my hair. I decided a new start deserved a new hairdo. I had been wearing braids for about a year and a half. With four kids and a full time job, it made life so much easier… no perms, no hot curlers. All I had to do was wear a scarf at night, take it off in the morning and go.
My plan was to take the braids out that day, call my hairdresser for an appointment and get it permed and curled the next day. Removing hundreds of individual braids from my head was an all day ordeal that I dreaded. It took time that I usually didn’t have, but it was okay this time around. I had more free time than I’d had in years.
To my dismay, with each synthetic braid I removed, more and more of my own hair came out. I kept trying to remind myself that losing hair when you take out braids is perfectly normal. My hair had been braided for months. Of course, I was going to lose hair. I had done this several times before. But something felt very different this time. It looked like significantly more hair than usual was coming out. By the end of the day, when I looked in the mirror, the reality of it all became painfully clear. My hair, my crowning glory was terribly damaged. There were patches as short as a grain of rice next to longer patches, next to bald patches. My scalp looked like a kindergartener had randomly glued pieces of black scouring pads to it. I fell to my knees and cried. I felt hideously ugly, empty, and worthless. I was baldheaded and unemployed.
When there were no more tears left, I put a baseball cap on my head, went to Walmart and bought a perm kit. I couldn’t bear the thought of sitting in a hair salon with other people. I didn’t want to see anyone and I didn’t want anyone to see me, so I decided to play hairdresser and perm my own hair. Maybe after the perm, it wouldn’t look so bad. I used to chemically treat my own hair all the time when I was a teenager because my mother didn’t always have time to take me to my Aunt Marie’s salon. But, that was a long time ago. Chemicals had changed a lot since the days of Tamba Liquid Hair Relaxer.
My time as a hairdresser was short lived. My hair wouldn’t perm. The curls weren’t quit as tight as they were before I put the white relaxer cream in it, but it was far from straight. I needed a professional, but I couldn’t bring myself to leave my house. The most I could do each day was slap a baseball cap on my head and go to Walmart for the necessities… milk, bread, cereal and paper towels. Then, I got a call about a resume I submitted on line for a job at an all-news station in town. I knew I couldn’t go on an interview looking like an extra from a zombie movie, so I finally broke down and called my hairdresser. When I explained my situation to Lisa, she generously allowed me to come in extra early one morning when no other clients were there. She worked a small miracle that day with a perm, a jar of gel and a fake ponytail. She made me look and feel presentable for my upcoming interview. Not only did I get the job, I found another easy scarf and go style.
Those were temporary fixes to much bigger problems. In the days that followed, I was forced to look in the mirror and ask myself, “Who am I without a job, without my hair?” I discovered that I had been defining myself by things that were vain and superficial. I had a few, what Oprah Winfrey calls, “light bulb moments,” that led me to the revelation… I am much more than my job, my hair, my dress size, my race, my religion, or my politics. Author Eckert Tolle said in his book A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose, “Give up defining yourself—to yourself or to others. You won’t die. You will come to life. And don’t be concerned with how others define you. When they define you, they are limiting themselves.”
My awakening came through mindfulness meditation which is something I’ve incorporated into my personal yoga practice and into the classes I teach. A Perspectives on Psychological Science study defines mindful meditation as a nonjudgmental awareness of experiences in the present moment. It requires quieting yourself, going inside, becoming aware of your breath and body. Mindfulness meditation can help you see who you really are beyond the physical. It can reveal many truths. One powerful truth revealed to me is that we are all diamonds, multi-faceted and brilliant in our own way looking for clarity of purpose in this big classroom we call life.