Our four year-old grandson, Aiden, recently spent a couple of nights with my wife, Valerie, and me while his parents were out of town. On the day he was scheduled to go home, he woke up quite a bit earlier than I expected and jolted me from my sleep with a hearty, “Good morning, PopPop!” As his features gradually came into focus, I could see that Aiden was staring at me intently when he asked, what for me was, an odd and unexpectedly profound question, “PopPop, have you ever seen your hair?”
In the brief time it took to gather my thoughts and prepare a response, I realized that I have never actually seen my hair – at least not in its naturally occurring state on my head. While, of course, I have seen its reflection in countless mirror images and its depiction in scores of photographs over the years, in the fog of that pre-dawn moment, I became acutely aware that my visual perception of my hair and everything else above my shoulders, for that matter, is based on an image shaped by countless variables including the color of the light source, the angle at which it is reflected off the mirror’s surface, the photographer’s technical proficiency and my diminishing visual acuity.
At the Bishop John T. Walker School for Boys, all of our students memorize our honor code and regularly recite it. The honor code is not only the foundation of our discipline policy, but also serves as a fundamental building block of our daily relationships. Its opening sentence declares, “I am a child of God, created in His image.” Thanks to Aiden’s thought provoking question, I’ve begun to reexamine exactly what that sentence means to me and how the representation of God reflected in the mirror of my life is influenced by the countless variables that shape others’ perceptions.
As the impressionable boys entrusted into our care at the Bishop Walker School explore what God looks like to them, I’m reminded of the reality that (without discounting the primary role their parents play), in potentially significant ways, the answer for many of them may well be determined by what they see when they stare intently at my life and the lives of the dedicated adults with whom they interact at school daily – both a sobering thought and an amazing opportunity, indeed.
By the way, I did ultimately respond to Aiden’s inquiry. Rather than burden him with the complexities of my thought process, I decided to answer succinctly and with an open-ended question I selfishly hoped might prompt him to share another pearl of pre-kindergarten wisdom: “No, I haven’t,” I said. “What does it look like to you?”
James Woody is Executive Director of Bishop John T. Walker School for Boys.