Sage beauticians

redemptive power hidden in a village beauty parlor

I don’t really like big events. You spend the whole day getting dressed, only to spend an entire evening in a not too comfortable outfit, then having to small talk with strangers. Don’t get me wrong. There are ways to make these events more meaningful, but sadly, I don’t always have the inner stamina to do the alchemy, even if I wish I did.

There are occassions though when love calls you to make the sacrifice, like last Saturday. That morning, I went to my usual salon and while having my hair done, a woman struts in like she owned the place. She was obviously of “that” sort, with a sophisticated socialite air about her. Already cranky, she plops herself down in the seat next to mine. I guess it didn’t help that my hair stylist was also her regular, and since I got there first, she’d have to settle for the less preferred option. Thankfully, she didn’t aim her annoyance at me.

My stylist’s understudy stood behind her and began prepping her hair. All of a sudden, I hear this cleopatrian tone demand, “Just cut the tips!”

The guy stylist answers, “Oo ma’m, konti lang.” (Yes, ma’m. I’ll only cut a little of it off.)

The woman screams, “Yung tips lang! Iba yung konti sa tips!” (Just the tips! Cutting “a little” off is different from just cutting the tips!)

The poor guy. My heart bleeds. My blood boils watching what is happening beside me. I want to give her a piece of my mind, or at least, a conscienticizing lecture in my professorial voice.

Thankfully, she quickly loses her patience and stomps out. Her hair tips still uncut.

As soon as she’s gone, the salon staff begin giggling among themselves. Then one of the female stylists beside me quips, “Siguro malaki yung problema niya, nadala lang niya dito.” (Maybe she has a big problem. And she is just taking it out on us.)

She said this in such a compassionate tone, I was stunned. Then moved.

Then, another stylist says, “Mabait naman siya. Hindi lang niya pinapakita.” (She’s really kind. She just doesn’t show it.)

Half amused, half crushed, my heart was won over by the benevolence of their comments. Despite being “slapped”, they fought to see the dignity in someone who clearly didn’t deserve it. In someone whose “fists” were directed at them.

On my way home, still filled with awe at the show of goodness I just witnessed, I thought to myself, “It’s not everyday that you find sages who do hair and make-up.” That encounter filled me with a refreshing and warm sensation, making the world look like it was suddenly bathed in hope.

Those unexpected sages gave me a glimpse of a gem that hides in many Filipinos. They possess that spark that makes our people so precious. The world knows this spark as our kind warmth; hence, the demand for our nurses and teachers in many parts of the world. But these stylists showed me that it goes deeper than just kindness. Our culture teaches us to find human goodness beneath imperfection and frailty, even in those who hurt and beat us.

Spirituality writer John Philip Newell calls this attitude “subtraction”. He says that within each person hides something of God and it’s the believer’s task to subtract all the ugly masks, so the hidden God-like gem beneath can come out. That alchemy of subtraction is exactly what my stylists did that morning. Their examples made me both proud to belong to the same culture and people as them, as well as humbled by their humility.

Our country is living in a time when that legacy of seeing dignity beneath ignobility is being threatened. Last Saturday morning helped me remember why this legacy is worth protecting. It helped me see that there is something inspiring and noble in it worth preserving. An echo of wisdom that will make western schooled sages, like Newell, applaud.

The sad reality is that many of those on top can’t see the value of this alchemy of “subtraction”. They think it is foolish, futile and weak. That’s when it helps to listen and learn from the wisdom of those without power. They remind us that there’s something more potent than might. It’s something called forgiveness, and the redemption this merciful virtue makes possible.