I don’t know if I cried the first time I went to the barber, but I do know that I almost did the last time. No, it’s not because I have accepted the inevitable ebb of my receding hairline – God has graced me with a few more years of cranial coverage in that regard. Yesterday, when I visited “Mr. Jim,” I knew it was going to be the last time. He is retiring at the end of the month.
Jim Mondimore has been my barber since I stopped having my grandmother cut it, at the age of four or five. Over the past 35 or so years, I have only dared to use a different barber because I was living in Rome, and the flight home was just too inconvenient. Jim was my barber – as he was for so many others in my family and our neighborhood. In fact, no matter where I was living stateside – Essex, Towson, Hagerstown, Annapolis, or even Western Maryland – I’d always make the trek to the barbershop that was down the road from my childhood home.
So yesterday, as I sat in that old chair one last time, we reminisced about the past. We recalled how the neighborhood has changed: how the pizza place next door has continued to run and how the Westway movie theater has become a couple churches and now a “seminary.” I recalled the mysterious card games that always seemed to be going on in the back room, how the price of a haircut went from 5 to 6 to 7 and now 8 dollars, and how I tried to save a lock of my little brother's hair from his first haircut (sorry, Brian, I lost it). Other patrons also recalled the “first time” they walked in and what Jim has meant to them and their boys’ lives over the years. It was almost … liturgical.
Jim has basically given me the same haircut since I’ve had hair, but he has also endured my own “experiments” – as he has many other guys – from an attempt at the “skater look” of the mid-80’s, to his patient endurance of my mullet years in high school. And, while there are certainly flasher and, I dare say, better barbers out there, Jim was ours. And we were loyal.
Each time a customer walked through the door, Jim would look up from meticulously squaring off a forehead or trimming a sideburn to greet them with his clear, Philadelphia-Italian voice (“Hey, muh MAN!” or “Good MORNin’, Fathuh!”). We belonged there – even if he never took appointments (walk-ins only, please).
In the midst of this sad farewell, I have been reflecting on our Gospel for this weekend. Here, Jesus appears to his friends and shares a meal with them. It is a familiar encounter for them – a meal shared with their Master, as they had done so many times before. However, today, it is different. Jesus is risen, and demonstrates to them by words and actions that he is truly alive and that what has been said of him and what he has taught has now been fulfilled.
The disciples are then called to go forth and be “witnesses of these things” to the world. The Church has taken Her call from our Risen Lord’s sharing of His life with that first community of faith. Any time we gather to share the meal of the Eucharist, we are connected to that first community, and to every one that has gathered since then. The modes of celebration have changed, but the relationship remains the same.
Our experience of the Church is a lot like my relationship with Mr. Jim. Sure, there are jazzier haircuts, more convenient shops and cuter barbers; but this place is ours, and we love it. Our priests might not be perfect, our rules might seem “oppressive,” our participation might be spotty, but the Church is patient. Better still, the Church does not retire! Together, we are connected in a bond of love that transcends the incidental elements of normal life.
So, the day we all knew would come is now upon us. I had hoped Jim's career would outlast my hair, but alas, other shears will need to preside over my vanishing coif. As I left the barbershop yesterday, Jim shook my hand and very sincerely asked, “Will you pray for me, Father?”
Of course, Jim. And thanks.