Every year I write a birthday post reflecting on something I’ve learned in the past year about myself (and thoughts about getting older). It’s a great way to see where I’ve been, who I am today, and hopefully reflects the person I am working towards becoming.
I’ve always been a self-conscious person.
Some people call it being sensitive. I think it’s a hyper self-awareness of what I think of myself and what I think of what others might think of me (thanks, Sociology 101). I’m probably too sensitive.
As the years have gone by I have noticed no matter how youthful I feel, I am aging. This appears to be a trend that will continue for the rest of my life. Great. Michelle reminds me often that I need to stop saying “I’m old.” She’s probably right. However, one tangible aspect of aging has been the steady loss of hair on the top of my head (for some reason I’m still able to grow some hair on the sides and back of my head…yay for that). Thus the reason for the hats these days. I wasn’t really a hat person, but hiding bald spots and preventing scalp sunburn seems now to be the norm in my life.
If you had talked to me about this maybe 5 years ago, I would have denied it or avoided it. Me? The boy who my haircutting-great-Aunt swore had- and would always have- the “thickest hair in the family.” The one she swore would have hair when he was old. She was wrong. In fact, the first time I was even aware of my hair loss was when a good friend of mine in college (thanks, Anne) pointed out to me in my senior year that my hair was thinning. She was honest with me and I’ve always been thankful to her for that because I wasn’t honest with myself.
I started to think about it. What would I be like without hair?
I worried about it. It seems silly to write about this today but I think many of us struggle with our appearance one way or another. Which actually brings me to a confession: My two front teeth are fake. Actually, let me be more specific, parts of my two front teeth are fake.
The story involves famous, Olympic-gold medalist Kristi Yamaguchi, and a camp that she sponsored for children with disabilities. It also involves a swimming pool. Let’s just say that a 20-year-old version of myself, who was attending as a camp counselor, decided to try and show off his swimming ability. He tried to look and act cool. He tried swimming from one end of the pool to the other side completely underwater. As he went from the deeper end to the shallow end (unable to see and open his eyes because of his contacts) he slammed his mouth into the bottom of the pool due to the sharp rise in the floor. The floor was a rough, concrete bottom, which essentially ground away part of his two front teeth.
Immediately, the 20-year-old version of myself shot to the surface making a huge scene. Staff and, yes, Olympic-gold medalist Kristi Yamaguchi came over to see my new look. I was mortified. I knew I had lost my teeth- the permanent ones they tell you that will never grow back. It was all I could think about. Though Kristi and everyone else at camp was incredibly gracious and supportive, I was embarrassed. Again, all I could think about was myself. What would people say? I’d be ridiculed. In that moment, it was a horrible, horrible feeling.
I’ll never forget what happened next. A large, muscular hand pulled me aside from the crowd to speak to me. He was a big man, someone who I had just met earlier that day. I don’t even remember his name. I just remember he was an impressive figure. The kind of guy you thought either played professional football, was a bouncer, or maybe both. Hoping for some consolation, he spoke directly and calmly, “Jedd. We are here at a camp for children with disabilities. Many of them cannot walk. They cannot help themselves. You can get your teeth fixed. Can they fix their situations? Don’t forget why you are here.”
I was ashamed and I was humbled. I needed that moment.
I wonder if you’ve ever felt like me- so focused and worried about things that are fleeting, that you forget about what’s really important. My hair and teeth do not define me. They might be part of my identity for a period of time, but my character, my values, my passions- these are the things I will have with me for a lifetime. As the years go by, I will continue to lose my hair, and my teeth, though fake are still there. I hope I will continue to smile. I will try to be thankful.
I’m still self-conscious, but I’m getting better because I am reminded of what happened. Everyday I look in the mirror and see my teeth. I see the fallen black hairs everywhere. I remember the 20-year-old version of myself, a pool, a very large man, and Kristi Yamaguchi.
And I am thankful.