by Michael Seleman
I’ve always been the son, the student, and the brother. Three primary and definitive roles, accompanied by many more, have determined my being through a long list of social guidelines and expectations. All that I was, I was relative to others, i.e. parents, siblings, other students. Report cards, academic awards, and extracurricular achievements gave me the validation needed to fuel my complacency. The person I was beyond these primary roles, mattered not, because this was all I needed to be, or so I was told, and “success” always seemed so readily accessible.
That is, until I dared to commit likely the most drastic act of teenage rebellion humanly possibly; I grew out my hair.
For most of my life I’ve been neatly groomed, per my parents’ request. Never was I permitted to set foot out of the house without my hair, a lofty centimeter in length, combed “presentably.” And for a while, I was perfectly content with this; I’m sure I looked quite spiffy with my conservative haircut, one that proved immutable even in the face of the most powerful gusts of wind Mother Nature might throw my way.
But suddenly, and rather inexplicably, I felt restricted, contained within the metric boundary of my hair. I wasn’t one to express myself through a risqué hairdo, but it irked me that I had never satisfied my curiosity to experiment. Cutting my hair seemed to be inhibiting something more than just hair growth.
Months passed, and having now refused three appointments at Ray’s Barber Shop, my hair had grown to an unprecedented length. Though they dared not force my hand, my parents and friends alike were adamant that a haircut was long overdue. Yet every time I stole a glance at my bedroom mirror, I was surprisingly pleased. The miniature Afro (Egyptian genes at work) was here to stay.
But why bother maintaining something so trivial? Admittedly, it wasn’t the hair that captivated me as I looked briefly into the mirror. It was the man, barely recognizable, that stared back at me. His physical appearance hadn’t notably changed (a haircut, or lack thereof, only goes so far). But for once, he didn’t seem the poster-boy student, son, or brother that he had previously been. For once, he seemed something more, an entity in himself, something dynamic and thus undefined. And he stood with a self-assurance uncharacteristic of the young man who had previously fulfilled these roles. The significance of so trivial a change in my appearance was by no means correlated to its scale.
In growing out my hair, I had exercised my autonomy ever so slightly, thereby altering my self-perception in a manner that I wouldn’t understand immediately. I had seen previously through eyes not my own, through those of my community, my parents, etc. But now, I looked with my own eyes as an individual in the truest sense of the word, one that need not be classified as one thing or another to find purpose. I was, rather, I am my own.
I no longer define myself as solely the son, the student, the brother. Who I am, who every human being is, is more than a list of positions, relations, and achievements. Accordingly, the individual, dynamic in nature, has the capacity to distinguish himself, and often strives to do so through the pursuit of a passion, ironically with its own roles or titles. It is when the individual allows these roles to define his essence that they become limiting factors of his identity, rather than those which empower him to thrive in the relationships and opportunities allowed him daily. I want to study biochemistry, maybe even pursue a career in medicine, but I don’t want my concentration or any title that I may achieve to limit my perception of myself. I am unlimited, and that affords with it a passion that no titular pursuit can ever bring.