My dreads are three months old. Which means for ninety something days now, I’ve been carrying around these ropy, tangly, matted knots, instead of the long, thick wavy hair that partially defined me for all of my previous 38 years. And they look, well… they’re a huge mess. Their current appearance does not do much to help the opinions of
my mom all the people who think that dreadlocks are unkempt or unwashed. Despite my tender loving care, some days they look a little bit – or a lot – of both. I feel this overwhelming need to say that out loud, because I can feel the looks. I can feel the wordless stares. Not necessarily because I have dreadlocks, but because I have crazy, messy, rebellious teenage dreadlocks. They’re a mess. I’m aware.
They are filled with crazy loops and twists and lumps and bumps. All of which are a normal progression in the journey of dreadlocks (and actually a good sign that they are doing what they are supposed to do), but somehow very different in reality than they were when they were merely hypothetical. There are things to do to “tame” the loops a little quicker… there are techniques that involve basically poking and threading with big needles, and/or I could always find a salon that does dread maintenance.
BUT. And it’s a big but. I’ve decided to embrace the chaos.
Some of the “maintenance” recommended by certain websites and schools of thought can actually cause a lot of damage. And the last thing I want is to commit to a long-term hairstyle, only to have them thin and fall out because I didn’t treat them properly! More than that though, is this linear idea that neat, perfect and uniform = beautiful. Did I decide to take this drastic and bold step with my hair, only to make it look like everyone else’s? If I’d wanted that, I could have gotten perfectly round extensions. No, what I signed up for was a journey. I’m surely not done with my own journey of growth, so why should my hair be any different? I have bad days and bumpy days and setbacks… but I am learning to trust that there is beauty, not just in the end, but in the process.
I didn’t like what I’d started to see in myself over the past several weeks as my hair changed. Me, forever proud not to be overly attached to things like make-up, hairstyles, and fashion… I was mourning my old hair. I’d be fine for a few days, hiding it all under a buff or bandana, and then I’d take a good look in the mirror, wanting to look nice for church or dinner or just a day out. On one shoulder would be the confidence. “You can own this! You’re awesome!” And on the other, would be that insecure teenager again. “But. But. It’s not pretty.”
I am so much more than my hair.
At the same time, my hair’s become an outward symbol of an inward process, more so than I ever could have imagined when I started this journey three months ago. I look forward to having mature, beautiful dreads in a couple of years. I do. But now, I look forward to the journey even more… loops, bumps, and all.
Once a little boy was playing outdoors and found a fascinating caterpillar. He carefully picked it up and took it home to show his mother. He asked his mother if he could keep it, and she said he could if he would take good care of it.
The little boy got a large jar from his mother and put plants to eat, and a stick to climb on, in the jar. Every day he watched the caterpillar and brought it new plants to eat.
One day the caterpillar climbed up the stick and started acting strangely. The boy worriedly called his mother who came and understood that the caterpillar was creating a cocoon. The mother explained to the boy how the caterpillar was going to go through a metamorphosis and become a butterfly.
The little boy was thrilled to hear about the changes his caterpillar would go through. He watched every day, waiting for the butterfly to emerge. One day it happened, a small hole appeared in the cocoon and the butterfly started to struggle to come out.
At first the boy was excited, but soon he became concerned. The butterfly was struggling so hard to get out! It looked like it couldn’t break free! It looked desperate! It looked like it was making no progress!
The boy was so concerned he decided to help. He ran to get scissors, and then walked back (because he had learned not to run with scissors…). He snipped the cocoon to make the hole bigger and the butterfly quickly emerged!
As the butterfly came out the boy was surprised. It had a swollen body and small, shriveled wings. He continued to watch the butterfly expecting that, at any moment, the wings would dry out, enlarge and expand to support the swollen body. He knew that in time the body would shrink and the butterfly’s wings would expand.
But neither happened!
The butterfly spent the rest of its life crawling around with a swollen body and shriveled wings.
It never was able to fly…
As the boy tried to figure out what had gone wrong his mother took him to talk to a scientist from a local college. He learned that the butterfly was SUPPOSED to struggle. In fact, the butterfly’s struggle to push its way through the tiny opening of the cocoon pushes the fluid out of its body and into its wings. Without the struggle, the butterfly would never, ever fly. The boy’s good intentions hurt the butterfly.
Struggling is an important part of any growth experience. In fact, it is the struggle that causes you to develop your ability to fly.