Before my husband and I left on our trip for the Middle East, I had hoped that I wouldn’t come home the same. I wanted to be changed and challenged in some long-lasting way.
We rode camels with the Pyramids as our backdrop, explored the ancient red rock city of Petra in Jordan, climbed Mt. Sinai at midnight, visited the Wailing Wall, sailed the Sea of Galilee and floated like a cork in the Dead Sea. Our eyes saw 3,000-year-old stones and our feet walked the very paths of Jesus. There were things being exposed in my life that I wanted to change — like the vanity revealed in my heart when so often, instead of being focused on capturing the wonder around me, I was more concerned with how I appeared in pictures. Throughout the trip I was moved, educated and challenged, but I had yet to experience something that totally rocked my world.
Then, I met Daisy.
The night of our supposed departure we learned our flight was cancelled due to Hurricane Sandy, so we put in a call to our friends who were in Israel seeking aggressive treatment for their 8-year-old daughter, Daisy, who was battling cancer. We exchanged hugs and I got to meet Daisy for the first time. She wore a peaceful smile even after receiving more than eight shots less than an hour earlier. After six surgeries, 22 rounds of chemotherapy and two courses of radiation, Daisy still wore a smile across her face.
We enjoyed beach time in the Mediterranean Sea. Daisy sang songs as we tried to catch the tiny minnows.
“I’m timid,” Daisy said.
“That’s okay, I think it’s great that you’re exactly who you’ve been made to be.”
“Yup,” Daisy replied with confidence.
I asked Daisy about her favorite book and was impressed by her intelligent responses and her big vocabulary. I was smitten by her quirky and peaceful disposition. My heart leapt when she asked if I would hold her hand.
At dinner, the waitress mistook Daisy for a boy, but she didn’t even flinch. She seemed 100% comfortable in her own skin – even with a limp, her scars and her adorable peach fuzz hair.
Concluding that sweet time of Greek food in Jaffa, we said our goodbyes.
On our way home from Israel, we were rerouted through Paris. After a lovely night in the City of Lights, I went for a morning run. I felt like a new person after my time with Daisy. Like something in me had forever been changed. During our layover in Atlanta, I asked the receptionist if I could borrow a pair of his office scissors. I ran upstairs and cut my long, golden-brown ponytail off. As soon as I got home, I shaved the rest of head.
When people asked why I shaved my head, I didn’t really know what to say. I told them to pray for Daisy, but the truth was that I didn’t really cut it off for her. She didn’t need me to. I shaved it because I wanted to be more like her. When cancer hits, it has a way of stripping away the things we cling too tightly to. While I didn’t have cancer, I did want to experience what it was like to cut something off — like part of my external beauty — to see if something more beautiful would shine in its place. I shaved my head in hopes that with cutting off my hair, I was also cutting off my preoccupation with the way I looked.
I did want to experience what it was like to cut something off … to see if something more beautiful would shine in its place.
After spending weeks in countries where women must cover their hair and even their face for religious reasons, I wasn’t ready to come home to a hyper-sexualized culture that overvalues a woman’s appearance and undervalues her true self. I didn’t want take my freedom or hair for granted, and I didn’t wanted to put all my worth in my physical appearance.
Five months after my visit with Daisy she passed away, but I’m confident that she is now free and whole in heaven, her forever home. I am grateful for such a courageous, wise and truly beautiful little girl from whom us big girls can learn so much. May we all be women who are fearless, quirky and, like Daisy, know how truly valuable and irreplaceable we are.
Has your concept of beauty been inspired by a “Daisy” in your life? What have you learned?
Images courtesy of Allie Marie Smith, photos of Daisy courtesy of the Merrick family