Friday, May 7, 2010

Because We Need to Count Our Days

Whenever I take our younger son to the barber shop, I'm reminded of time's passage and the prayer of Moses in Psalm 90: "Teach us to count our days aright, that we may gain wisdom of heart."  Something about this barber shop, which I have been taking our sons to for a decade now, makes me reflect on the unfolding of time. I took Lucky for a haircut last weekend. What a privilege it is to watch our children grow up.

I first started going to this barber shop, then called Santo's Barber Shop after a long-deceased owner, in our small town's central shopping district when our older son was three. Now 13, he shuns the place, connecting it with the crewcuts of his early years.  Instead,  he has me take him to a stylist in a unisex salon who can work with his kinky hair.

But Lucky, who is ten and a half, doesn't mind the $12 haircuts. The first time I took Lucky to the barber shop, he was three, and his bright blond ringlets reached to his shoulders. The barber propped a wooden board between the arms of the metal chair so our son could sit at a good working height, where the barber could easily reach him. The vinyl cape covered his body. I stood behind the barber, anxious for my son to keep still so as not to be cut by the razors or scissors. He sat as still as a statue as his blond ringlets fell to the tiled floor. These days, I don't hover behind the barber. I read a magazine, eavesdrop on conversations, or knit.

Our visits to what is now called "Everybody's Barber Shop" are infrequent; Lucky gets a couple of crew cuts a year. He lets his hair grow out until it covers his ears (as in his picture here). Last weekend, for the first time, he told me he wanted just a trim, and not a crewcut. So that is what he got. He reached another milestone in this visit. For years, Angela, a longtime employee and now the owner, handed him a lollipop as he left. "You're too old for lollipops now," she told him last Saturday in her rich Hungarian accent. Lucky nodded, as if he had understood all along that this moment would materialize.

To enter a barber shop is to witness a man's world. My husband prefers to go to the barber shop alone; it's his Saturday morning male time. I'd never entered a barber shop until we started raising sons. The men arrive, nod to the barbers and take their seats in the row of five ripped vinyl chairs in the back. They might pick up a magazine from a table or work on a crossword puzzle. The men don't talk until it's their turn at the chair and the barber begins his work. The conversation between customer and barber seems to continue where it left off during the customer's last visit. They talk about the Mets or the Yankees, about a daughter's new job or a friend's failing health. Angela owns the shop and she behaves like the male barbers. She nods a lot and speaks few words. She knows what questions to ask to keep a customer chatting.

My favorite former newspaper boss, Chuck Paolino (who happens to be a Catholic deacon), has blogged about the beauty of barber shops. "Places like that barber shop have always interested me because of the role they play in a community that transcends the immediate purpose of their existence," he writes.

Time passes. Little boys outgrow crewcuts and lollipops and grow into young men. God's hand is everywhere in this unfolding. When St. Paul was imprisoned in Rome, he wrote a letter to the church in Ephesus, where he had ministered for years: "Watch carefully then how you live, not as foolish persons but as wise, making the most of the opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore, do not continue in ignorance, but try to understand what is the will of the Lord. "

May these words serve as a guide on how to count our days.