Dana Jennings was facing radical surgery to remove his cancerous prostate. An editor with the New York Times, Jennings was accustomed to an active life, rich with meaningful work and boisterous times with his family. Now he was facing surgery, harsh treatments for the aggressive cancer and a less than certain future, dancing “this wicked waltz with cancer.”
How does one get ready for such a transforming season of life?
Dana Jennings got a buzz cut. (He writes about it here.) Or to be more specific, a “one-zero”. At first, he told people it was to avoid the embarrassment of greasy hospital hair. But in actuality,
In a time of utter vulnerability—having already weathered three months of post-diagnosis ups-and-downs—I needed the primal ferocity that a buzz cut proclaims. I needed to look like a soccer thug or an extra from “Prison Break” to help get me through surgery, the physical indignities of post-op life, and my subsequent radiation and hormone therapy. I still do. My prostate cancer and its treatment have transformed me—in body and spirit—and the buzz cut has helped me cope with these changes. I agree with the late Anatole Broyard, who wrote in his memoir “Intoxicated by My Illness”, ‘It seems to me that every seriously ill person needs to develop a style for his illness.’
In a recent interview, Jennings said that the challenge of his illness called him to pare down to what is essential. He said that the buzz cut was part of a new sense of self-identity – “a new me” – and talks of being captured by a thought from another researcher who said, “the challenge with cancer is to find a new sense of self because the narrative of yourself has been disrupted.” Interestingly, near the end of his essay, Jennings compares his experience to that of Jacob, who wrestled with the angel of the Lord, emerging with both a new identity and a limp that marked his every step.
When he goes in for the one-zero buzz cut, Dana Jennings says that the barber is “preparing me for the next three weeks, the way James Bond gets prepped for a mission….it energizes me, puts an extra bounce in my step.” So, when he looks in the mirror, he sees a man ready to engage the challenge before him.
That got me thinking about the times in which we live and the challenges before us. Faltering economy. Swine flu. Global warming…or not. Terrorism. Family stresses. Many have described the moral nature of our culture as a cancer.
So, in the face of those challenges, what’s our buzz cut? When we pare it down, what’s really essential for our lives? What would you say? That could be a long and interesting discussion, but I suspect we could end up with something quite different from the lives we now live. Something more bare and simple.
Here’s a start: Life essentials, other people to love and be loved by, and God. Three things. What would happen if you leaned into just those three things?
Here’s the thing: all of these have a promise from Jesus attached to them. For life essentials, he says, “Don’t worry about what you will eat or wear. Your heavenly father will provide. Trust Him.” (Matt. 6:25-33) And then later he says that the two most important things in life, the things God is most likely to bless are passionate love for God and compassionate interaction with people. (Matt.22:37-39)
A buzz cut gives a whole new look for a whole new day. Maybe “a new you” marked by more simplicity and focus will energize you and put an extra bounce in your step, as you move forward in our challenging times.