“How’s it going?” I asked Jerry, the new barber in my regular shop, as I sat down for a haircut.
“It’s going great,” he said with moderate enthusiasm.
“How long have you been here now?” I asked.
“About two months,” he said.
“Do you like it?” I asked.
“Well, it’s different from where I was last. That’s for sure,” he said.
“Do tell,” I asked.
“Well, the last place I worked was a very high-end shop in Beverly Hills,” he said.
“Beverly Hills??? How the heck did you wind up here?” I asked, looking around at what I would call the Barber Shop that time Forgot.
“Well, I’m originally from the area. I was living in Beverly Hills with my girlfriend at the time, working in this nice shop. We decided to get married and, while were planning the wedding, she got pregnant. Unfortunately, after she had the baby, she totally changed,” he said.
“Sorry to hear it,” I said. “How long were you married?”
“About seven months,” he responded.
“Damn,” I said. “And how old’s your son now?”
“18 months,” he said. “I figure he’s still young enough not to miss me, but I’ve got to get back out there because the kid’s going to need his dad, and I want to be around.”
“At least you’ve had your parents to fall back on — you get to regroup here until you’re ready to head back out,” I said.
“Yeah, but they are driving me crazy too,” he said, now laughing. “Every night we have to have a full family dinner. God forbid we ordered Chinese food or something. If I even suggest it, my Dad starts pouting saying he’s going to cook something anyway.” he said.
“Old school,” I noted.
“Yeah, and unfortunately I don’t get a lot of privacy. I can’t even Skype with my son without my mother poking her head over my shoulder to get in the frame. It’s nuts,” he said.
After a minute, he added, “But it’s all right. I’m going to get back on my feet and eventually get back out there.”
“I have no doubt,” I said.
As I walked out of the barber shop, I thought about how you just never know what people are going through by looking at them, or even having basic social interactions. On the surface, they may seem like they’ve got everything together when, down deep, things couldn’t be much worse. This is a good reminder for us to always give the benefit of the doubt when faced with less than polite behavior, and to assume someone is just having a bad day.
But Jerry’s tale also tells us that refusing to be defined by setbacks is the key to accomplishing anything in life, for we all either have been or will be down. The question is whether we have the fortitude to refrain from going out. And let us also remember that each battle, and its attendant scars, leave us stronger than they found us.
In one of his famous letters, the Stoic philosopher Seneca wrote:
“For our powers can never inspire in us implicit faith in ourselves except when many difficulties have confronted us on this side and on that, and have occasionally even come to close quarters with us. It is only in this way that the true spirit can be tested … This is the touchstone of such a spirit; no prizefighter can go with high spirits into the strife if he has never been beaten black and blue; the only contestant who can confidently enter the lists is the man who has seen his own blood, who has felt his teeth rattle beneath his opponent’s fist, who has been tripped and felt the full force of his adversary’s charge, who has been downed in body but not in spirit, one who, as often as he falls, rises again with greater defiance than ever.”
It’s been said that “once down is no fight” — so, like Jerry, keep getting up, with greater defiance than ever, time after time after time.