I was depressed for what seemed like a lifetime. Around friends, I was the life of the party. But, when alone, I felt desperate for love. At times, I even felt suicidal. Mostly, I felt alone, as though no one else could know what I was feeling.
Indeed, not many around me understood. After telling one close friend about my state, he just turned to me and said, “even in your depression, you’re so self absorbed!” I was stunned. How could he be so heartless, poor me!! Though I was hurt by what he had said, he had a point. I was tired not only of my depression, but of playing the ultimate victim.
At the time, I was taking a break from hectic New York City and living in Miami. Shortly after the conversation with my friend, I happened to pass a puzzling scene: a group of people, some in wheelchairs, begging for money in front of a building in glamorous South Beach. Instead of walking on, curiosity led me into the building that this group stood in front of.
To my surprise, it was a nursing home/hospice. As if by reflex, I immediately asked if they were looking for volunteers. You can imagine my added joy when I stumbled upon an old sign, upstairs, that read, “Beauty Salon.” (For those of you who don’t know, hairstyling is one of my passions.)
Apparently, years ago, when the economy was much better, there was a hair salon, upstairs, to cater to dying patients. Since the economy took a turn for the worse, the salon turned into a storage room. Before I could even realize what I was saying, I had blurted out to the hospice staff, “Can I do haircuts once a week, for free?”
You see, offering to do haircuts for free was an extension of my depression. It was pure desperation, on my part, to break free of being the victim.
On my first day at the hospice, I did not expect to see the long line of wheelchairs that awaited me, outside, for a haircut. In these wheelchairs sat men and women of all ages and races, most of whom had been abandoned and had very little time left to live.
Some patients could talk, but had lost control of their legs. Others, altogether, had lost their ability to speak or use their arms. I will never forget my first client, an old Cuban man, who was nervous about getting his haircut. Nor will I ever forget those clients whose smiles, alone, embodied so much gratitude. Rarely did I hear these clients complain about or rely on their hairstyles to “change” them. Most were at peace with themselves and their illnesses.
Of course, there were sad experiences, too. I recall this sweet man, who had only one pair of pants. Because he had no belt, his pants kept falling down. Then there were those patients, who did not want to give up their Medicaid to this privately-owned hospice, because it was all they had left of their own. One man even decided to leave the hospice to die on the streets.
Despite any differences, each patient showed me the same emotion in his/her eyes, one that I will treasure for life: love and appreciation. Surprisingly, I had rarely seen this emotion before, not even from my paying clients (even though they loved their hair).
Though there were some sad experiences, all of my hospice experiences, happy and sad, transformed me. Over time, I grew stronger and slowly emerged from my depression. As I look back, I am glad that I passed the hospice when I did. The patients showed me love and appreciation at a time when I so needed it. The patients saved my life, one haircut at a time.