Almost cut my hair. It happened just the other day … but I didn’t and I wonder why.

These lyrics (and I know you can hear the melody) launch the song by the same name written and sung by David Crosby. A protest song of sorts, it arose to fame in the 1960s, a time when things changed in a hurry. To many, it’s a song about freedom, personal freedom as in the simple act of growing your hair long, and it’s not just symbolic. Young men in North Korea today cannot grow their hair longer than two inches. Imagine that.

A lot of folks recall the days of long hair and revolution as an exhilarating, liberating time. Growing your hair long was a sign you were hip, with it, and the longer the better as the musical “Hair’s” lyrics boasted. “Give me a head with hair/Long beautiful hair/Shining, gleaming/Streaming, flaxen, waxen/Give me down to there hair.”

We love our hair, and we fret when it misbehaves or worse falls out. Depending on their age, hairstyle, and preferences, the average American woman pays anywhere from $1,000 to $7,000 a year to color, cut, style, and highlight her hair. American men spend more than $1 billion a year on baldness prevention. That’s a lot of looking in the mirror, isn’t it?

I once spent time with a woman of beauty with a mane to be envied. Before going out on the town, she’d preen and if her mane wasn’t perfect, she’d shampoo it again and again until it met her standards. Thick as fur, it took time to dry, even with a blow dryer. By the time she was ready, the evening was spent, and there wasn’t much point in going out, but out we went, she expecting acclaim aplenty for her glorious crown.

This preoccupation with beauty and hair led me to wonder about something. How many of us would shave our head for a good cause given how tied we are to hair, that human crown that so defines our identity and proves we’re with the times? (Even if some of us can’t be on time.)

How well I remember when the Beatles changed men’s hair length overnight. Let’s turn back the calendar to the evening of February 9, 1964. That’s the night the Beatles debuted on the Ed Sullivan Show. And then the British Invasion came in a rush. The Rolling Stones, the Animals, the Kinks, the Dave Clark Five and later came giants like Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd. All had long hair and more and more guys in the ’60s decided to skip the barber’s chair. Among them was yours truly. But we did so to be cool, not for a real cause.

There’s a Christmas commercial running over my way about a woman who’s fighting cancer. She and her husband face a hard time. No insurance and tough circumstances. On top of that, cancer and chemotherapy have robbed the woman of her identity. She’s bald and she cannot bring herself to look in the mirror. This refusal to look in the mirror, I learned, is a common reaction among women fighting cancer. Some patients say losing their hair is one of the most distressing aspects of treatment. A mirror? Most women just can’t look in it.

The woman in the commercial, Carol, sleeps a lot. One day her nurse finds a photograph beneath her blanket. It’s a picture of the woman and her husband back when she was vibrant and had hair. The husband tells the nurse, “She won’t look in the mirror anymore, just pictures.”

The nurse, all too aware that a despondent patient better fights cancer with an optimistic spirit, decides to give Carol a gift. She takes the photo to the hospital’s boutique for women with cancer where they can buy wigs and prosthetic brassieres, but Carol has no money or hope. The nurse intends to do something about that.

In the boutique, the nurse matches a hair sample to Carol’s photo. She finds a wig much like Carol’s hair and buys it. But the wig is not the true gift she’s giving to this woman who cannot bear to look in the mirror. She’s giving her and others much more. The nurse writes a note to Carol that goes with the gift …

Dear Carol … Your photograph inspired me. My mother fought cancer and with the loss of her hair, she, too, struggled to look in the mirror. Cancer had stolen her identity. But in time, my mother looked deeper and came to realize … “You are still you” … Nothing in this world, not even cancer, can take that away”… So with this gift, my wish for you this Christmas is that you will look at yourself and smile … Your gift to others—the best gift—is you.

The next time we see Carol she’s handing her husband the old baseball cap for good. And then we see her with her wig on looking in the mirror smiling, a woman transformed. This kindhearted nurse helped Carol to see her true self.

I’m most familiar with Carol. In a way I created her but never doubt for a minute that she isn’t real. There are many other Carols out there … Carls too. I wrote the script for this TV commercial, which I hope sends a message that Christmas, for many, is not about gifts, food, parties … or hair. For a lot of families, it’s a depressing time of struggle when the human body and spirit are under assault. Thankfully there walk among us those who share a spirit of giving and hope.

And there’s a story within this story. A wonderful actress from Atlanta landed the role of Carol, so named by me because, in a way, this TV spot is my Christmas Carol. You can watch it on YouTube (double click to make the image bigger):

After reading the script, this actress (and many others who tried out for the role) said she’d gladly cut her hair and shave her head to portray Carol. I asked her how long it’d take to grow her shoulder-length hair back.

“A year,” she said, and then she paused a few seconds, a faraway look in her eyes and said, “I may never grow it long again.”

Almost cut my hair. Well, there was no almost for this woman. She went the distance. When you get right down to it, our hair means nothing in the long run, but we do let it drive our identity more than we should. A few years back, I let a woman convince me to color my hair Clairol Ash Blonde. When I walked out into broad daylight, I looked like something between a weasel and a stand-in for Strom Thurmond. Definitely one of my more ridiculous times. It didn’t last long. I walked into a barbershop one day and told the barber to cut it off. I’ve never had a better cut. Nor has the actress who portrayed Carol.

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Tom Poland

Tom Poland, A Southern Writer – Tom Poland is the author of twelve books and more than 1,000 magazine features. A Southern writer, his work has appeared in magazines throughout the South. Tom grew up in Lincoln County, Georgia, where four wonderful English teachers gave him a love for language. People first came to know Tom’s work in South Carolina Wildlife magazine, where he wrote features and served as managing editor.Tom’s written over 1,000 columns and features and seven traditionally published books. Among his recent books are Classic Carolina Road Trips From Columbia, Georgialina, A Southland, As We Knew It, and his and Robert Clark’s latest volume of Reflections of South Carolina. Swamp Gravy, Georgia’s Official Folk Life Drama, staged his play, Solid Ground in 2011 and 2012.He writes a weekly column for newspapers and journals in Georgia and South Carolina about the South, its people, traditions, lifestyle, and changing culture and speaks often to groups across South Carolina and Georgia.Tom earned a BA in Journalism and a Masters in Media at the University of Georgia. He lives in Columbia, South Carolina where he writes about Georgialina—his name for eastern Georgia and South Carolina. Visit my website at www.tompoland.net Email me at [email protected]