Loved To The Very Hairs Of Your Head

Despite his age, I think Santa must have a good head of hair. We all know he has a magnificent white beard, tumbling like cumulus clouds all over his jovial face and down on to his chest. I’m sure he never shaves. That would be blasphemy.

It’s not that he’s a fundamentalist of any stripe; that would not become the man of such unfailing good cheer. It’s just that Santa without a beard would be morning without a sunrise, the tree of life stripped of its verdant foliage.

So, in keeping, I think he must have a very long, white ponytail or maybe braids like Rapunzel. I think he must, in his own very rotund way, be like her. Isolated most of the year at extreme North just as she was imprisoned in her castle; their hair keeps them both connected.

Most of us think hair is peripheral, but perhaps it is not. Santa’s epithelial ropes of memory connect him to the children of the world. Ancient, hoary dreadlocks stuffed up under that red and white Rasta hat. Maybe he’d forget who he is and who we all are if, like Samson, he were shorn.

He could be lost, wandering around at the top of the world with elves and reindeer in eternal disarray. ‘Twould be tragic – Winter, and never Christmas. Life without the supernatural, the whimsical, the impossible.

Dreary indeed, such an unmagnetic, predictable life.

It struck me as the sun rose this morning, with my own hair all over the pillow – dark auburn with ever more strands of silver – how important hair is.

I was thinking of my 65-year old patient, who went for a haircut yesterday and didn’t get one. Maybe it was foreordained. Maybe like Samson, keeping his hair will give him strength and divine favor and … memory.

He is a big, strong Zane Grey type of a man. He’s over six-foot tall with a handshake that communicates many years of being in charge. But lately, he can’t remember where he lives.

He knows he’s losing his mind and he’s trying to take it like a man but one look at his face tells you he is suffering deeply.

He spends lots of time outside with the horses, communicating with them in quiet ways that make him feel more human. He runs his big hands over the well-known terrain of thick muscular necks and bellies. He pats their fore and hindquarters, lifts their hooves. They have marvelous, furry winter coats at the end of December, with ropy mains and forelocks you can twist your fingers in.

This gentle giant of a man has diminutive women with thick black hair who tend to him 24 hours a day, and he tolerates their ministrations graciously. No doubt it is humiliating for him to be so dependent but he knows he needs them and so is ever the gentleman. For his bravery and generosity of spirit, I am in awe of this man. Such beauty of heart and soul even cognitive deficits can’t sully.

They went to town yesterday to get him a haircut – several times. He never did get it cut because there were always people ahead of him at the only barber in town he’ll go to and he can’t stand waiting. He wants to keep moving. We have medications for anxiety but nothing that returns memory. There are herbal remedies like Gingko Biloba that supposedly help by thinning the blood and increasing oxygen to the brain. There’s Aricept, which increases acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter, which may slow down the onset of Alzheimer’s. Nothing to hold off the inevitable though, not yet.

The research is feverish. The pharmaceutical companies churning out new drugs all the time hoping to find the magic pill, the holy grail that will resurrect the parts of the brain housing vital connections to identity. Oh God, for something to help us remember. For neurotransmitters enough to stay connected to those we love. Santa, all some of us want for Christmas is to remember who we are and where we live.

Maybe love itself is the indispensable neurotransmitter. Maybe with enough of it we can bring each other back to life. Like Magdalene washing the feet of the Savior with her tears and wiping them with her scandalous, raven hair, love is inexplicable and extravagant. It resurrects, it reconnects. Sometimes it flies.

The heart will always have magic the mind knows little of. If we forget everything else, we must never forget that.


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