Sharing Trauma Creates Intimacy

SCOTT IS FIFTEEN YEARS OLD. He is athletic, congenial, and good-looking. He’s the sort of young man that girls giggle over in the school hallways. He has style and charisma. And now, at fifteen, he has cancer.

I am not worried about Scott; I am concerned, but not worried. His family and extended family are a powerhouse; they are loving, totally committed to each other. As for Scott, he is strong and vital; he will beat it. In fact, I expect that the experience will kindle a maturity far beyond his years.

So, this is not a sob story; Scott wouldn’t buy that, anyway. This is a story about friendship.

After Scott was diagnosed with cancer, he underwent chemotherapy. As a result, he began losing his hair. It came out in tufts, first from the sides and then all over; it looked pretty scraggly. How does a kid deal with that?

His sister, home from college, had an idea. She got out a safety razor and the family shears and went to work. She shaved the sides smooth, leaving a short crop of stubble on the crown of his head. It looked a little like a severe Marine haircut. That’s the way he went to school, glossy on the sides, butch on the top.

Then it happened. Several of Scott’s friends decided they wanted the same coiffure. They trooped over to Scott’s house after school and asked his sister to render the honors.

At first, Scott’s mother protested. “Your school pictures will be taken tomorrow,” she argued.

But the boys would have nothing to do with that. “If we can’t support Scott today,” they said, “we are not worthy of his friendship. Get out the shears.”

One by one the boys sat down on a straight-back chair in the middle of the kitchen floor, a dishtowel draped around their necks. The shears clicked on and the clumps of hair dropped silently to the floor. Scott’s father smiled. These boys are going though the fire together, he thought, and they will never again be the same. “Sis,” he said to his daughter after the last boy stood up from the kitchen chair, “I’m next.”

Twelve years have passed since I wrote that story. Scott went on to play varsity ball in high school, lettering nine times in three years. After college, he married his high school sweetheart and is now the proud father of two little girls. Scott is coaching high school ball now and loving it. As for the cancer, he has been given a clean bill of health. I called him recently to see how he’s doing. He was at the county fair with his wife and, wouldn’t you know it, one of his shaved-head buddies from high school. That is not surprising. Sharing trauma creates an enduring, ineffable bond-a bond of brotherhood.

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About The Author / Credits: Allen Johnson, Ph.D. is the author of THIS SIDE OF CRAZY: 54 LESSONS ON LIVING FROM SOMEONE WHO SHOULD KNOW BETTER BUT KEEPS MESSING UP ANYWAY available through

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