Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Leaving the comfort zone

On Saturday, I had my usual hair appointment that comes around every 7 weeks.

"Whadya think of changing your hair slightly?" She asked. "You've had the same hair for ten years.. why not change it? Change is good. It'll push you out of your comfort zone and build character..."

I nodded and said, "Sure. what the heck."

She already seemed to know what type of style she had in mind for me while she clipped away.

"Change is good. It'll push you out of your comfort zone and build character...."

I thought back to when I was just 20 years old and I packed up as much courage I could fit into my brown suitcase and left my comfort zone of family and friends to travel with five other near 20-year-old girls up Interstate 5 to live in a seedy area called the Hilltop neighborhood in Tacoma, Washington. It was a battleground between families and the monsters of poverty and crime, prostitution, drug dealers and transients. I volunteered my time to counsel many of the poor and troubled people in the 'hood with only a 6-month training course.

Everyday, it seemed the gray skies blended into the grayness of the asphalt into a bland palette of gray weariness for me.

It was by far the most serious commitment I ever made and one most laden with guilt, because I wasn't enjoying it as much as I thought I should or with the same joy the others in that line of work seemed to have.

There were many days, I wanted to give up and go home. But I didn't.

I'm so happy I stuck it out. I wouldn't have had the extremely rewarding, yet sometimes troubling experiences I had. Such as those rainy mornings when Bobbi and I waited for the city bus near 11th and south K streets to carry us to a home off South Tacoma Way where we would visit a woman who had no face. Or the endless hours spent holding a 3-month old crack baby in my arms who smelled of sickness and later died from what the nurses at Mary Bridge Children's Hospital said was from "a lack of love".

I wanted to do this work because I wanted to make a difference in this world. And, though I'm proud that I did it, I also think I didn't have enough life experience and know-how to be capable of counseling the myriad of adults with their torrid experiences. What did I know just barely out of my teens?

So in that respect, it was a hardship for me as well. I deeply respect the people who make a lifetime commitment to helping people in need. And who enjoy their life's work.

Living on the corner of 11th and South J Street seems like a vague, half-remembered dream to me now. It seemed like another lifetime ago. And in some ways it really feels like a different life from the one I am living now. But I have the photos and the memories and the friends and stories that weave it altogether and prove that it was a very real experience indeed.

. . .

I turned to see my new hair style in the reflection in the mirror. "What do you think?" she asked me.

It seemed quite different and I wasn't sure I was ready for it.

"You need to get out of your comfort zone...." she said to me.

I smiled and nodded. I thought of the many times I have left my comfort zone and only became stronger for it.

This time it's an easy adventure.


Rayne said...

Oh, my Lord! You survived Hilltop? We lived near there in the late 90's and at night when we would sit out in our yard letting the girls get in some play time before bed we could often hear gunfire from that area.
Military members were forbidden to even go in that area because of how bad it was.
You were very, very, brave.
That poor baby, dying from a lack of love, it just breaks my heart.
Are you feeling more comfortable with your new hair style today?
Do you know that your blog is the second one I've read today about hair?

danny said...

That is an awesome story, Shawn...you should be very proud of yourself for doing such a thing, at that age especially! Most people, in their kinder nature, wouldn't dream of actually doing some direct action like that...I am one.
Hurricane Katrina comes to mind...
Anyway, you did some goood...and I'm sure your hair is beeyoootiful, :o)

kelly said...

Shawn, Your hair looks simply marvelous.(said with an accent of course!). I think I am in need of a change too. Courtney got her hair cut yesterday and she looks so stunning. If you are not busy tomorrow night, you will have to come over and see her before she goes to her prom.

violetismycolor said...

Got to see the hair now...

Harmony Sweetpea said...

What a wonderful story. Thankyou for sharing. It is so easy to stay within our comfort zone and not take any huge risks or make drastic change. So far I have lived a very comfortable life, other than a couple of bad hair cuts. I know soon my big change is coming when I get my first psych-related job because helping people in need is alot different to working in an office as I have so far! And new graduates often end up in child services or disability services first time round... taking them right out of the comfort zone!