Important Places
Robert Fulghum

Hair grows at the rate of about half an inch a month.  I don't know where he got his facts, but Mr. Washington came up with that one when we were comparing barbers.  That means that about eight feet of hair had been cut off my head and face in the last sixteen years by my barber.

I hadn't thought much about it until I called to make my usual appointment and found that my barber had left to go into building maintenance.  What?  How could he do this?  My barber.  It felt like a death in the family.  There was so much more to our relationship than sartorial statistics.

We started out as categories to each other:  "barber" and "customer."  Then we became "redneck ignorant barber" and "pinko egghead minister."  Once a month we reviewed the world and our lives and explored our positions.  We sparred over civil rights and Vietnam and lots of elections.  We became mirrors, confidants, confessors, therapists, and companions in an odd sort of way.  We went through being thirty years old and then forty.  We discussed and argued and joked, but always with a certain thoughtful deference.

After all, I was his customer.  And he was standing there with his razor in his hand.

I found out that his dad was a country policeman, that he grew up poor in a tiny town and had prejudices about Indians.  He found out that I had the same small-town roots and grew up with prejudices about Blacks.  Our kids were the same ages, and we suffered through the same stages of parenthood together.  We shared wife stories and children stories and car troubles and lawn problems.  I found out he gave his day off to giving free haircuts to old men in nursing homes.  He found out a few good things about me, too, I suppose.

I never saw him outside the barber shop, never met his wife or children, never sat in his home or ate a meal with him.  Yet he became a terribly important fixture in my life.  Perhaps a lot more important than if we had been next-door neighbors.  The quality of our relationship was partly created by a peculiar distance.  There's a real sense of loss in his leaving.  I feel like not having my hair cut anymore, though eight feet of hair may seem strange.

Without realizing it, we fill important places in each other's lives.  It's that way with a minister and congregation.  Or with the guy at the corner grocery, the mechanic at the local garage, the family doctor, teachers, neighbors, co-workers.  Good people, who are always "there," who can be relied upon in small, important ways.  People who teach us, bless us, encourage us, support us, uplift us in the dailiness of life.  We never tell them.  I don't know why, but we don't.

And, of course, we fill that role ourselves.  There are those who depend on us, watch us, learn from us, take from us.  And we never know.  Don't sell yourself short.  You may never have proof of your importance, but you are more important than you think.

It reminds me of an old Sufi story of a good man who was granted one wish by God.  The man said he would like to go about doing good without knowing about it.  God granted his wish.  And then God decided that it was such a good idea, he would grant that wish to all human beings.  And so it has been to this day.

Here Fulghum engages us with musings on life, death, love, pain, joy, sorrow, and the best chicken-fried steak in the continental U.S.A. The little seed in the Styrofoam cup offers a reminder about our own mortality and the delicate nature of life . . . a spider who catches (and loses) a full-grown woman in its web one fine morning teaches us about surviving catastrophe . . . the love story of Jean-Francois Pilatre and his hot air balloon reminds us to be brave and unafraid to “fly” . . . life lessons hidden in the laundry pile . . . magical qualities found in a box of crayons . . . hide-and-seek vs. sardines—and how these games relate to the nature of God. All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten is brimming with the very stuff of life and the significance found in the smallest details.

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Herman Melville



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A little friendship, a little sympathy, a little sociability, a little human toil. . .
is needed in every nook and corner.  Therefore search and see if
there is not some place where you may invest your humanity.

Albert Schweitzer