For whatever the reason, however shallow or profound, a group of pollywogs, at zero degrees latitude, zero degrees longitude, come together in a massively intimate experience: a shared rebirth as we all become what is honorably known as Emerald Shellbacks. It’s a glorious day on Semester at Sea, appropriately called Neptune Day.
After a rude 7am awakening by the sounds of a drum line passing through the cabin hallways, the masses of students arise, groggily stumbling to the top deck where the festivities commence. There, we are welcomed by a makeshift parade by the royal court of Neptune Day, including our SAS dean crudely dressed as Neptune himself. Closely following are the royal barbers who will shave the brave, the few who choose to surrender to the scissors. The entire student body swears an oath to Neptune, to the sea, and to ourselves; and the haircuts and fish guts ensue!
Among smiles, crowds, and cheers; with cameras flashing, waves crashing, and me laughing, I hold my long braided right pigtail in one hand and scissors in the other. With a count to three I intend to cut the base of the braid at the same time as my friend Dan, who is sitting next to me; his long and glorious plaited mane proudly in hand with another pair of scissors. We are in this together.
With friends and razors buzzing, scissors open, and eyes closed, we start the count: “One… Two… THREE!” Clenching the blades closed around my locks, I expected one clean CUT! Instead, I found myself savoring the multiple squeezes of the shears that were needed to detach each individual strand from my head – Crunch. Crunch. Cruunnch…PLICK! My braid plops into my hand… as if it was always detached. From the watery hairy abyss, I take a refreshing GASP, and the crowd goes wild!
But wait! My left pigtail remains attached. Now, I recognize it to be a nuisance, an unnecessary extremity, a dead weight that must be lifted at once! I cut again, with great haste and greater joy – crunchcrunchcruuunnnchSNIP! The friendly bellows burst forth with flashing cameras as I collapse in my chair laughing in relief from joyous disbelief. I hold up my braids, my former fortune, for the last time before reverently resting them into an envelope marked “Locks of Love” waiting to become someone else’s treasure.
Immediately, the royal barber’s tickling snips pull at my head from all sides. More and more bits and pieces float past my face, calmly collecting on my shoulders, lap, and feet… like snow. I welcome this calm within the clicking, flashing, cheering storm of friends surrounding me. Dan grabs my hand, as we experience this unfamiliar ecstasy simultaneously. Amidst the underscore of clipping, our gaping, smiling, giggling hoots and hollers intermixed with a contemplative…. ruminative… meditative… huuussshhh from within…
On this day, we and a few other brave souls have collectively chosen to mark this occasion as more than simply turning from Pollywog to Shellback; we embark on something deeper than this watery journey around the world. We, the shaved few, mark this day in our own personal journey: the day we are “officially” no longer the same. We embark on this liminal moment where we literally shed the dead skin off our minds to make expansive way for new cultivation, a new experience, and a new perspective. To grow…. a new head of hair.
Submitting to the final cut of the buzzing razor, the remaining inches float past my eyes, my lips, my chest, my lap, and down to my feet. The wind whirls a wisp away into the waves beneath, and I close my eyes. Stroking my scalp for the first time, I take my first deep breath in, and smile.
Already… I feel the stubble emerging…