Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Another Gift

Life in the convent returned to normal the day after the ceremony in which eighteen of us received the habit, our white novice veil, and our new name. That is, except for one thing—the haircut.
            All of us had not had our hair cut for six months. Thick and long hair could bulge out the paraphernalia on our head and the coif fit so tightly that we couldn't let the hair trail down our neck.   
            Picture this on top of the bundled hair: the white, close-fitting head covering shaped like a surgeon’s cap; the two top corners of the starched coif pinned to that cap; the strings of the starched forehead ban tied around our head; and the white veil draped over all this and secured with a hatpin.  
            If someone had a cowlick, as I did, all these layers of cloth could truly bring on a headache. And yet I resisted that haircut out of sheer waywardness. Perverseness. Contrariness. Or maybe I just wanted to draw attention to myself. I don’t know.
            What I do know is that seventeen novices went into the office of the assistant novice mistress, sat down, and had their haircut.
            Via one of them, I sent her the following message: “Thank you very much but I don’t want a haircut.”
            I received back the following order: “Get in here. Now.”
            So shortly before we were to go to chapel to pray Matins, I ambled nonchalantly into her office. She motioned me to take off my headgear and place it on the table. After I did so, she invited me to sit down. “Sister Innocence,” she asked, quite amiably, “do you think you’ll make first vows in a year and become a scholastic?”
            “I don’t know. It’ll depend on whether the nuns think I have a vocation.”
            “I think today we have the first indicator for why they might blackball you.”
            “What do you mean?”
            “Resisting having your hair cut doesn’t bode well for taking the vow of obedience.”
            “Now I’m going to cut your hair shorter than anyone else’s.”

              I said nothing, fearing the worse as I watched long locks fall to the floor. When she’d finished, the assistant novice mistress said, "Remember, Sister Innocence, pride cometh before the fall." Then she directed me to stand before the mirror and look at my haircut. I kept my eyes closed while preparing myself to see a shorn head.            
               Finally I looked.
               The one-inch-high hair on the top of my head stood straight up. She’d given me a “butch” haircut.
            Suddenly I began to smile. Broader. And broader. And broader. For much of my life I’d thought I was adopted because no one saw any resemblance in me to other members of my family.
            And yet. And yet. Here I was with this butch haircut and . . . I looked just like my brother.
            I wasn’t adopted. Hurray and hallelujah. I belonged with my family even though I didn’t resemble any of them.
            The assistant novice mistress stood bemused by my beaming face. Just then the bell rang for Matins. Quickly, I reassembled the headgear, skewered it with the hatpin, and turned to thank her for the haircut. With joy blossoming within, I opened her office door to leave. I'd never seen anyone look so dumbfounded.
            Gleefully, I raced out of the novitiate, across the driveway, and into the convent basement. Walking as fast as I could, I mounted the steps and hurried down the main hall to the chapel. No running. As quietly as possible, I entered the chapel just as Matins began.
            I’d need to kneel before the novice mistress the next day to make culpa for being late. But this didn’t faze me. If I hadn’t resisted the haircut, I never would have known I wasn’t adopted. As the book title says, “O ye jigs and juleps!”

Credit for Photo: 


  1. Brilliant story! Felt like I was reading pages out of a book I didn't want to put down! The details in your memory are quite awesome. I'm so glad you found the good in that haircut, and can't imagine living life wondering if you were adopted.

  2. What a great post! To find joy in being shorn--excellent.

  3. I'm glad you were pleased with the results of the haircut. Apparently, trimming your spirit proved to be much more difficult!

  4. This is one of my favorite posts ever. What a blessed turn of events. I can't imagine how hard, and yet joyful that must have been lol :)

  5. P. S. I just shared this on twitter :)

  6. I love this beautiful example of being happily surprised when we are forced to do something we are so certain we won't like. What a blessing in disguise! :)

  7. I, too, love the unexpected gift you received from this, but I admit I am dumbfounded at the lack of care the assistant novice mistress took with someone she was supposed to be shepherding. Her example of punishment versus understanding seems to be contrary to the purpose you were all there to accomplish together.

    Guess it just goes to show we are all human, no matter what we wear or choose as our vocation...

  8. See, I would have been pissed ;o.
    But then, I'd make a really lousy nun.~Mary

  9. Oh Dee! What a great story! I chuckled when you mentioned the "barber" being bemused by your joyful expression of delight at officially discovering you weren't adopted!

    As Kario and others said, it's such a special thrill when that we dig our heels in against, often is the thing we needed the most.

    So human we are!

  10. Wonderful story, Dee! I really think you ought to write a book about your convent experiences. Your stories are so riveting, heart-warming and evocative of a very different era.

  11. I loved the unexpected revelation! So glad that your being shorn was a positive experience. :):)

    Long story, but I had a woman trick me into letting her cut my hair so she could do the same thing to me...and it stuck straight up like a butch haircut. I remember standing in front of the mirror and the nasty grin on her face while she waited for me to dissolve into tears. So, of course, I wouldn't. I looked her in the eye and said, "It will grow back". She was crestfallen. Later when I was alone, I cried.

    Goodness! Some of your posts throw me into memories--LOL! ;)

  12. Thanks for stopping by my blog today. Your words are always a great encouragement. As you know, I've been away from blogging for a while, so I have a lot of catching up to do.

    I loved this installment in your story. I think the idea of someone telling when and how you will wear your hair would make most of us decided we weren't giving them that kind of control over our lives. I understand you took covenants, but really, who could blame you for resisting?

  13. Such is youth! Never daunted, always looking for the good side of things.

  14. I'm glad it wasn't all doom and gloom.

    Your headgear would have given me claustrophobia.
    The way you tell the story makes it all sound so natural and normal, when really, to me anyway, it is the most unnatural way to live.

    PS: I know about musicians because I live in a musician's household.

  15. Oh Dee I can just picture you fighting it and fighting it then being so happy after it happened. You crack me up.

  16. So sweet that you would find your "belonging" in a ritual performed to make you blend in.

  17. You truly are a breath of fresh air, Dee! I had to burst out giggling at your confounding (to anyone not knowing what was going on in your head at the time) reaction to a haircut you'd so sweetly resisted! No wonder that nun was so completely bewildered! Your ability to find the remarkable in every situation is a gift few possess. It seems you've had this your whole life. What a delightfully refreshing soul you are and how wonderful it is to have been able to meet you, even though under normal circumstances our paths would never ever have crossed. Yet another absolutely delightful story you've shared here, Dee...thank you!