Ten Years and a T-Shirt



The other evening I pulled on an old T-shirt from a punk band I saw when I was a teenager. The sleeves are cut off and it is something I would never leave the house in now, but still, it’s a physical reminder of a time ten years ago, when I went to a concert, danced wildly and declared that I could die happy now.

There were a lot of hard days in those years—that is also what I remember when I put on this T-shirt.

There was a brother descending down the road to addiction, there were sudden losses and there was my own depression. There was a lot of hurt and heartache. I can’t even tell you why it was all so painful then for now it feels so far away.

But it just was.

There was also high school. I hated that place so much I tried to think of any way to avoid going. My principal told me at some point that I would achieve nothing with my life. Then he added, “With that attitude.” I can hardly blame him as I was a burning ball of resistance to authority.

I guess I couldn’t see ahead, to the woman I would become, to the holy work of restoration that God would do on my soul. I couldn’t see the ones who would love me, or the healing, both physical and emotional, that was to come.

When I first became a hairstylist, it was an odd choice for me, with my band t-shirts and my resistance to befriending other females.

But despite my tomboy-ish ways I was drawn to it by its practicality, by the idea that I could use my hands and create something. I was drawn to it because I thought I could do it. There were so many things I didn’t believe I could do, but styling hair was not so lofty a goal.

My teacher in hair school once said that being given permission to touch the head of another person was an honour.

A lover may run their fingers through our hair, a parent may touch our face, a friend’s shoulder may hold our head and yet a hairdresser can wash and shape us. The idea of honour has always stayed with me.

As a hairdresser I learned to listen to the stories of women. The ones they tell of family, of friends, of relationships. And the ones they do not tell. The ones you feel with your fingers; the insecurity, the abuse, the disappointment, the uncertainty of being touched.

The tension in their bodies asks the questions,

“Will you make me feel beautiful?”

“Will you notice my scars?”

“Will you feel what I have lost?”

“Will you judge me?”

“Can I trust you?”

I didn’t see the holiness in that work until time had passed and I was working with other women, women who carried the same aching questions beneath the surface.

I see now how I learned gentleness from being so close to the vulnerability of another. I felt compassion in a way I hadn’t known before.

They build on each other, these phases of our lives.

T-shirt-Wearing, Authority-Fighting Saskia was needed in those hard days of working with human trafficking on the streets of South Africa. I could see slivers of her in the 17-year-old girl who told me she had it all under control or in the 15-year-old who declared that she did not need our help leaving her pimp who had put a hit out on her. I needed the hardness, the fight and the ability to see beneath an angry girl and recognize something of worth.

I saw a lot of Hairdresser Saskia when I worked with women in the sex industry. She had the ability to hear a story without words and carry the weight of secrets for a little while. She made herself available by offering a braid to a woman whose hair was just not working out that day and granted her the honour of touch.

These days I feel the ache of a new shaping taking place. There was another line my principal added to his declaration for my future, after he let me know I wouldn’t amount to anything: “Or you will come back one day as a lawyer and tell me I was wrong.”

I chose to study law, because there is a dream that this study will make a difference. Perhaps something beautiful will come from it. But it is hard to feel the holiness in the midst of heavy books and a long commute and days spent in lecture halls instead of being in the “real world.”

I suppose I was drawn towards this study for the hope of the person I will be on the other side.

Yet, I think the teenage girl in the T-shirt would want me to take time in the midst of these different-kind-of-hard days to be present in the shaping, to dance wildly and declare that this, right here, right now, is good too.