I always give my grown children, niece, and nephew a book for Christmas. Usually they read it and tell me if it was worthwhile. Sometimes it’s a classic like “My Dog Skip,” by Willie Morris. One year it was M.Scott Peck’s “The Road Less Traveled.”
This year I gave them a small book about life’s essential questions called “Wait, What?,” based on a commencement speech by James E. Ryan, president of the University of Virginia. The book is a reminder that we need to make sure we understand the situation, the conversation, before we answer, take actions, or make snap judgments.
When I read the book, I immediately thought of an essay that my friend Doyle Renolds wrote several years ago. When Doyle died this past year, I went back and reread his essay, published in the Progress-Argus back in 2012.
Take that second look
by Doyle Renolds
“I went to a class reunion recently where old friends were giving me looks best described as suspicious, even fearful. There was something very different about me: a long, gray, ponytail.
“Hard to miss on an old man.
“People I have known for many years just stared, or they came up to me and asked questions like, “What is this? Why did you do it?”
“These were people I have known most of my life, but hadn’t seen for a while. My grown children have recently been giving me these same looks, along with ones that silently ask ... Is Dad going around the bend?
“All of this worry and doubt over something that I could hold in the palm of my hand ... less than an ounce of hair.
“I have changed my hairstyle, but I’m still just a 61-year-old management retiree, Navy veteran, father of three, grandfather of eight, and a loving husband. The most unconventional thing I do is play a few extra mulligans in a round of golf every week. I do a little writing. I never even have a library book overdue.
“So why this hippie look that is raising eyebrows wherever I go?
“Eighteen months ago I visited my doctor who examined a growth on the back of my head which was slowly getting larger. He decided it was time to have it surgically removed. He referred me to a surgeon in my insurance network, and we scheduled surgery in the Spalding County hospital. The operation was successful; the growth was benign.
“Unfortunately, it was larger and deeper than expected. I woke up in recovery with a head full of staples and a crater in the back of my head. That was the day I let the hair start growing. Eventually the hair grew long enough to cover the scar.
“I fastened it in a short pony tail because it was hot on my neck when it was down.
“The only thing that had changed about me was that almost ounce of hair. My political views were the same, no mid-life crisis in the works, no trying to get in touch with my feminine side. I just wanted to hide the scar. Period.
“Friends that I survived the teenaged years with had judged me. My children had judged me. Total strangers had probably judged me. I was profiled, cataloged, and convicted without a trial. On one thing. They could see the long hair and mental flashcards had made associations with radicals, hippies, druggies or just older guys trying to recapture a few years.
“But I, too, am guilty of judging people based on their looks, clothing or hairstyle.
“I was coming out of a Jackson municipal building the other day, when three young men walked toward me dressed like thugs. They looked like trouble. I stiffened.
“But out of habit I held the door as I was going out.
“One of the desperadoes looked at me, smiled, and said in a well-mannered tone, “Thank you, sir.” The other two kindly repeated the phrase.
“These were nice young men, probably trying out a look — as teenagers do. I who had often been judged on my looks — my pony tail — had myself made a snap judgment on appearance alone.
“Maybe we all should take that second or third look.”
I am always reluctant to make lists of how I am going to “be” or “act” better in the New Year. But maybe I can work on this one thing: Wait a minute, make sure I understand the situation correctly, and as Doyle said, take that second look, before I react.