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“Yeah, go ahead and cut off my brunette hair,” I said, the words skedaddling off my tongue and ending weeks of indecision.

Immediately, I remembered another haircut, one that also ushered significant change. It was 1968. With the superior’s permission to wear secular clothes while studying on the Tulane campus, I sought a beautician at Maison Blanche Department Store in downtown New Orleans. My thick brunette hair, cut with blunt-edge scissors to accommodate my white cap and black veil, smelled, even matted the contours of my head. Shame diced my innards as I secretly glanced at Nicholas in the mirror snipping away at my hair. “The rest will have to grow out,” he had said rolling his eyes and removing the maroon cape from around my neck.

And my haircuts continued for decades, with unblinking regularity, until the emergence of gray hairs threatened to spoil my youthful appearance. A former nun picked up my distress and taught me to color my hair over her kitchen sink. I learned quickly and remained a touched-up brunette, until two weeks ago.

This time, another overcast morning in my kitchen, another maroon cape fastened around my neck, another challenge: shaggy lengths of brunette hair sort of framed my face and fell below my ears, thanks to my dull scissors. Like a full moon illuminating a harvested field, the overhead fixture shone upon the white roots.

“So it’s off with the brunette,” my retired stylist Patty said, laughing, unwrapping the cloth pouch with her well-worn tools. I nodded, in sync with her lightness and expertise. This would work. More snipping, more shared stories, more strands of brunette hair mounting upon the floor—A new me was emerging.

“Now, that does look cute, Liz!” she said, stepping back to take in her work: my initiation into old age with white and soft gray hair, albeit very short, was complete.

 

For decades outside my study window, the summer’s sun has enlivened the juniper bush in my back yard. Its greenery laced with bluish berries affords sanctuary to sparrows; its shade, to mounds of ivy and Vinca. However alarm seized me noting hundreds of thatch-like cylinders hanging beneath the boughs, gentled by breezes. A closer inspection revealed bag-worms, if not removed, would endanger the shrub by next spring.

Collecting my shears and a plastic bag, I set to work, holding my breath, warily clipping the nasties from their host branches–one, two, three–a tedious process; then another ten. My bag was filling. Yet the pace was too slow. Heartened by the progress I was making, I pocketed the shears and began tearing off handfuls, at the same time taking satisfaction in the clean branches around me. Submerging the bag-worms in a hot soapy solution was the next step.

Later this experience gave me pause. When I am not vigilant, my character defects, like the bag-worms on my juniper, glob onto to my perceptions and judgments and take me far afield. If not corrected, even deeper harm results within me and to those around me. Fortunately, I’ve learned what to do, but it is a never-ending process.

With the Psalmist, I cry out, “Create in me, O God, a clean heart!”

 

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