My son is getting an $8,000 haircut in two weeks. He’s been at the University of Hamburg studying and traveling since January and for the past two years his hair has grown along with his learning, a marker of time, evidence that the shafts of hair are passing through the follicle reservoirs at the speed of, well…hair. During the anagen phase of hair growth the root of the hair is dividing rapidly, adding to the hair shaft. During this phase the hair grows about 1 cm every 28 days. Using hair math, Brandon’s hair is 24 cm long or in the United States, 9.45 inches. Here we have two years of hair grown at the speed of one centimeter per month.
If hair could talk, what would it say? Brandon’s hair has seen two years of life, Meteorological School at the University of Oklahoma and the University of Hamburg, his locks have traversed snowy slopes on skis in the shadow of the Matterhorn, flown in jets at 37,000 feet, rode the rails through the northern Deutschland hinterlands and strolled the gingerbread streets of Amsterdam.
A recent 4G commercial touted the virtues of speed. A wise but patient man in a business suit asks children whether faster or slower is better. The kids agree faster is better…cars, spaceships, grandma with a cheetah strapped to her back…but nothing compares to the speed of data traveling along this 4G network. It may not be the speed of light, but it’s faster than the speed of dark, which is still being measured by NASA scientists…and the Department of Motor Vehicles Licensing Staff.
Once in my youth, our childhood eyes were drawn to the sky, this wonderful sky painted Air Force blue brushed with ribbons of jet contrail, a three-dimensional palate we filled with Superman, rocket ships and Astroboy. Kids in my neighborhood listened to the supersonic boom of jets and the honking of geese flying south. Both birds flew but at different speeds.
Is faster better?
In the atmosphere of my childhood we sensed inspiration enabled by a world that was bigger, bigger in the sense that we were further apart, informationally disconnected, slower, less urgent, less immediate, living within broad swatches of slow and considered, we watched paint dry and clocks stand still, we lived our childhood at the speed of hair, and while slower isn’t necessarily better, sometimes slower enables learning to grow in places that speed glosses over omitting the beautiful nuances and graceful crevices of roadways life.
Albert Einstein once imagined himself riding a beam of light. I imagine riding the shaft of life traveling at the speed of hair, remembering something I once read about how to travel, not just touristy travel, but life travel. “Learning is inversely proportional to the speed you travel.”
Next week we’ll travel to Germany to see our son, because we love him and miss him and because for Mother’s Day, he posted a message on Facebook that his gift to his mother would be a pair of hair clippers and fifteen minutes of stillness in which the locks will be shorn and fall to the floor, two years of life, two years of living at the speed of hair. But we are not spending $8,000 just to travel to Germany and cut Brandon’s hair. We’re going to travel about Europe, a place I’ve never experienced with my feet. We’ll take a jet across the pond, ride the rails across the continent, roll along pastoral highways on buses, but we’ll also walk, taking it all in, enjoying, soaking up life with our toes wiggling and our heels touching old European cobblestones and if we really go slow, we just might learn a thing or two.