I have long hair. It’s true. When I was in my mid-twenties I started farming my hair for Cancer victims. Farming refers to a process where one grows out their hair for a period of time so that it can be made into wigs. Usually it takes between sixteen to eighteen months. Then I get it cut and I look all presentable again. The first time I did it was because I wanted to do something nice for someone else. As I’ve gotten older I’ve realized the importance of doing things for others. Not to the point where I would say I was capable of something huge like love or anything, but for people like me we’ve got to take baby steps. I never grew my hair out as an act of rebellion. That’s what most people think. My dad once pointed to a man in a restaurant who had a pony tail that went about halfway down his back and asked whether that was my goal. I’m sure he meant it in jest, but oftentimes I take things seriously that most people wouldn’t. From that point on I wondered for the first time in a long time what people thought about me. I’m not the kind of person who gets hung up on appearances. I don’t care what people think, but I am interested in why they think the way they do.
A woman came up to me the other day and told me that I had very “pretty” hair. I didn’t know how to continue that conversation. I didn’t want to be rude and say something like: “it’s not pretty, in fact I think my hair is thinning out and since everyone on my mom’s side of the family is bald I’m starting to get a little self-conscious about things…” That wouldn’t have been a very nice thing to do so I went with a simple: “thanks.” I smiled and pretended like that comment wasn’t one of the weirdest critiques of my hair I had gotten. Truth be told however most people don’t tell me what they think of my hair. I used to assume that’s just because it didn’t really matter. Your hair isn’t so much an extension of who you are any more than being tan or pale is a reflection of how you value your body or your appearance. It’s true some people look good tan and many wish they could tan as well as these people, but if that’s the only thing that defines your appearance then maybe you want to think about what you’re projecting to the world. What I learned eventually is that people did not like my long hair. As one person said: “it just doesn’t look good on you.” What this person failed to understand was why my hair was long to begin with. I wasn’t making a statement and were I to make a statement I’d think up something better than growing my hair out or getting a tattoo. The ways we, as a culture, differentiate ourselves is a sad statement on the relative lack of creativity that exists within our culture at this point in time.
I know a lot of girls who dye their hair to piss off their parents. That’s always struck me as a rather juvenile move especially if you’re twenty-two years old or older as many of these girls are. As soon as I make that judgment though I have to remind myself that I’m not as far ahead of them as I’d like to think. This is where my Asperger’s really makes me feel weird. I’ve never felt like I fit in with people in my age group. I was never as emotionally mature as they were or I thought I was above them, which was my go to way of compensating for my own social awkwardness. As a kid I never hung out with people my age. Through my entire life I’ve had just one friend that was the same age as I was. This is because developmentally people on the Autism Spectrum tend to be between three to five years behind their peer groups. Needless to say, this causes some problems. When I was trying to destroy my life at eighteen and nineteen I was really acting like some out of control high school kid when in reality I should have been getting my life together and preparing for adulthood. When I reached the climax of my out of control behavior at twenty-one I was in reality behaving like someone who wasn’t ready for the responsibilities of adulthood and indeed I wasn’t. it was only when I was about twenty-five that I started thinking about my own personal development. That was the first time I thought about going to college. That was the first time I started developing any real adult interests.
After my twenty-fifth birthday I needed something to occupy my time. My grandfather was dying and I was still coming to grips with the wide path of destruction that I had left behind me as someone not yet ready for the responsibilities of adulthood. I needed an outlet for all the feelings that I had. I was really frustrated at how my life had turned out and I needed a way to express that. I turned to writing as that was really the only thing that I had ever been any good at. I joined a creative writing group and found a community that I fit in well with. Most of the folks in my creative writing group were either retired or busy professionals who had a love for the craft that they needed to express in one way or another. I found a niche of people who I identified with and a way of life that actually made sense to me. Rather than judging me for my social faux pas they looked at me as just another “artist-type.” There’s no such thing as a weird writer. Such a statement sounds to me like an oxymoron if there ever was one. Yet again however I had found friends among people who were nowhere near me in terms of age and once again I had absolutely no problem with that.
By the time I found myself in the position of an undergraduate I was twenty-seven years old. I was what the college referred to as a “non-traditional” student. My professors never treated me like the other kids, but how adults had frequently looked at me since I was a little kid; they looked at me like I was someone who was actually worthy of their attention and many often told me that I had so many interesting things to say. It may sound strange, but it had never occurred to me that there was a large swath of the population whose opinions weren’t worth listening to. People had just always listened to me. Ever since I was a kid on the beach telling kids how to build the sand castle people listened to what I had to say. In hindsight it at times seems sad to me that I didn’t use my voice for more altruistic purposes earlier in my life, but one of the hardest lessons I’ve had to learn in life is the hard science behind forgiveness.
So often we pollute our days by bringing up the mistakes of yesterday. I do this to myself. I doubt my ideas because I’ve made mistakes. Mistakes are what we should refer to as experience. Experience however is often viewed as a subjective thing and not an objective thing. Either the experience was bad or it was good. If someone steals something we label them as a thief. If you have sex with someone under eighteen we label you as a child molester. We say that their experience was not a good one because what they were doing was bad. We never sit back and think that maybe that person needed that experience to realize the good that they had within them. And now think about how that person is going to have to live their life. You can explain away a crime, even a felony, but you can’t explain away being a child molester.
The labels that we give people matter. The biggest thing that making a mistake can teach you is what it’s like to feel absolutely worthless and to be perceived by others as having no redeeming qualities. It is often not until we have been judged by others that we are able to see the very real pain that judgment inflicts on everyday lives. The truth is that every time we sit in judgment of someone else – be it for better or for worse – we are doing them a disservice by perceiving them not as they are, but as our own fears dictate. We don’t judge someone we are indifferent to. We judge those who are above us or below us on the ladder of life. Many people spend their days complaining about this person or that person or worse blaming someone or something for their current circumstances. The truth is that we make our own choices. We don’t always make the right choice, but everyone has the capacity to learn from their lives whether or not they do is a reflection on their character. Character is what we are when you drown out all the ambient noise. This is why people lose themselves in nature. This is why others seek the sublime. Everyone seeks something in life even if it’s death, but who we are and what we are is a direct reflection of how we live our lives. There is no need to judge anyone. The length of my hair does not matter anymore than my skin tone does or my sexual orientation. It has been my observation that those who stand in judgment never stand alone, but those who choose not to judge are the only ones who will never be alone. All of the good people in my life radiate love. The hurt of failure – be it personal or otherwise – may linger amongst those of us who make mistakes, but forgiveness is a choice we make out of love. Hatred is easy, love is not.