There are a few occupations where it helps to have dreadlocks. Musicians specializing in Reggae need them to be credible. And photographers, who seem to always bear at least one extravagance in their appearance, only enhance their artistic bona fides with a collection of nappy roots dangling from their head. Until last week, my friend and brother, David Asiamah, an artist in residence at Downtown Church and a gifted photographer, was known at church as “the guy with dreads.” His hair was an extension of his person, and when I wanted to tell someone about him, his full head of immaculately sculpted dreads was an easy reference. Last week, the remaining locks that hung on through eight rounds of chemotherapy over three months, were unceremoniously removed by a barber on Taylor street. I was invited to this funeral of sorts, and I even offered to cut my hair in solidarity. David wasn’t impressed by my less than genuine offer, as my hair was 98.7% shorter than his. Austin Smith and David Sloan, two men that are already married and consequently don’t care about their appearance, had more to lose. (The irony of two white guys getting their hair cut in a black barber shop will be the subject of another blog post.)
I have watched other people suffer through the pain of chemo, the endless doctor visits, and the uncertainty that remains at the end of treatment. But David’s journey through the seven levels of hell, one for each day after his bi-monthly chemo treatment, was different. Sure, his church brought him food and some of us sat beside him while a lovely nurse pumped poison in him with a smile on her face, but this was largely a solo descent to hell and back. I do not dare ask him what it was like. I don’t want to know, and some pain, even in the age of hourly Facebook updates, cannot be shared.
I do know that he is different. His hair is gone but his laugh is more punchy. His body is weak but his spirit is more open. Still, I do not mean to confuse the evil that is cancer as a cruel form of self-improvement. God did not do this to David.
Which begs the question: Why would God care to suffer with David? But this too, is a silly question, for it isn’t possible for God to choose. God only knows one thing - grace - which is too complete to be bothered with our small-minded deliberations about whose fault it is. So now, it is for David to determine how the rest of his life, each cold beer he drinks with a new or old friend, every photo he will capture, and the story he now has to tell, will be a thing of grace as well. Teach us something new David, we need to hear the good news!