Thursday, June 2, 2011

From the Barber's Chair: The Inescapability of Character

Bob Jones, Sr. used to say, "Your reputation is what men think you are. Your character is what you are when no one  but God is looking." Nevertheless, character will always come out in our actions and attitudes.

This recent communication from my barber (edited for typos and to protect the identity of a certain young army captain serving in Afghanistan) anecdotally illustrates the inescapability of character:

Had to get blades sharpened yesterday.  Williamsport Barber Supply does an international business.  Few walk-in customers.  Frank works in a small back room at his work bench.  Frank apprenticed for his Barber License in 1939.  That was not a misprint.  1939.  "Retired" now,he services clippers,lather machines,and sharpens blades,and shears.  We have been fast friends for years.  Frank is a Barber's barber.  If you are reading this email,it's because I know you appreciate sharp blades,and tools.  Frank works only one day a week,wednesday,my day-off.  We have known each other for years,and we both smile when we see each other.  Like you and me,he's only serious about a few things.  Like God,the Barber trade,sharp edges,and tradition.  Frank stills travels back to the old country,Italy.  He has family there yet.
Four blades,and one shear needed the master's touch.  We talked shop as he hand sharpened the blades on a wheel he made himself decades ago.  Only he knows the right number of times,and the right pressure to use on the wheel. Barber shears have a corrugated edge to the blades.  If they didn't,the hair would just fold into the blades,and not cut.  Turning to the shears,(scissors are what kindergarteners' use to cut construction paper with),we barbers are touchy when a woman comes in the shop and tells us to use scissors only on her child.Frank hand files them,using a well-worn groove in the workbench.  Yeah,Craig,totally by hand,with a master's eye.  He keeps an old wig perched on an old cosmetology mannequin head on the shelf.  After hand filing the shear points,the filing of the blades changes the contact point at the tips ever so much,he reached up,took a small section of hair,and gently closed his hand.  The now razor-sharp shears,severed the fake hair effortlessly.  Frank looked at me,big grin on his face,and I smiled back in acknowledgement.  That's our routine.
A woman's voice interrupted the joy of the moment.  A voice I recognized.  It was a lady barber from a town about 20 miles from my place.  She announced herself,reached into a rather gaudy colored,large handbag,and unceremoniously dumped three clippers onto a table in the room,while at the same time complaining about all the haircuts she had to do the day before.  All the life,and joy was sucked out of the room.  She very high-and-mightily told frank to clean,and tune,and sharpen the clippers,and that she would return later for them.  Frank looked at me with a look of disgust,shaking his head slowly.  After she flew out of the room,Frank told me that she likes girls.  I said, "That figures."  In the fifteen years I have known this wonderful man and master,I have never TOLD him to do anything.  I have always gently asked,and he has always dropped what he was doing,and went immediatly to work on my gear.  Bidding goodbye,and giving him the Lord's Blessing,I walked out front to greet Kevin,the manager.
Kevin excitedly told me that his son-in-law is now discharged,and thanked me for the support,and Prayers.  Turns out it had been four years since the IED blast in the armored-up HMMV in Iraq.  Among the grievous injuries he suffered TBI still lingers.  I told him that the Army wouldn't discharge him until he was fixed.  Turns out that was correct.  I couldn't believe it had been four years.  Kevin always asks about [my son].  Told me before I left that he still Prays for [him],and to tell him so.  Kevin began to tear-up as he describes what his daughter has to go through with her husband,and the TBI.  I've said it before,the true cost of this war will never be known,but to God.

It's just a simple story, but in it you can see kindness, compassion and mutual respect contrasted with rudeness and self-absorption. Christian Martialist, how does your character peek through the trappings of daily activity? And what would your barber have to say about your last visit?

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