A Long Obedience in the Same Direction

One of the kindest men I have ever been blessed to know was my barber, Ramon Gonzales. He passed away in January after a long career of cutting hair in Oak Cliff. Ramon loved people and had a knack for putting others at ease. I always felt and looked a little better after visiting him. He was quiet, but always spoke with wisdom; short, but a giant in character. 

There’s a word that comes to me when I remember Ramon: faithful.

His shop had been sold years ago to another owner, then sold again to a new, younger owner. Through all the changes, Ramon continued to cut hair in the same spot for 40 years. 

On a Friday afternoon in the summer of 2013, I sat in Ramon’s chair for a regular appointment. The shop on Jefferson Avenue was operating as usual when a man came in the back entrance. Out of his mind, he screamed and threatened to kill the new owner. Everyone froze. As the rant continued, however, the barbers went back to business.

“Ramon, we need to call the police,” I said. “This guy is dangerous.”

“Just ignore him,” he counseled. “He’s upset because he was fired yesterday. He’ll be gone soon.”

I asked for the phone and dialed 911 while Ramon continued to cut my hair. “You need to come immediately,” I said, hearing the fear in my own voice.

The officers arrived within just a few minutes, but as Ramon predicted, the man had already left. The police said to call if the man returned. 

I left the shop without thinking anymore about the situation until I heard helicopters overhead.

A half hour after my departure, the man returned and shot the new owner once in the chest, killing him with clippers in hand. He was caught by nightfall and confessed, explaining his distress over not being able to provide for his family.

How did Ramon respond? After grieving and comforting others, he went back the next week to what he had always done: cutting hair, blessing others, treating people with fairness. 

What still jars me today is the contrast between Ramon’s gentle, steady presence and the reality of uncertainty and violence that we all know is closer than we want to believe. 

The prophet Micah declared, “O people, the Lord has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8) 

That describes Ramon. He walked in humility, did what was right, and practiced mercy. His life emulated “good,” what many of us long to be. He was a light in the darkness. Eugene Peterson called such a life “a long obedience in the same direction.”

The faithful life is the consistent, trustworthy and reliable life. That’s rare today. Most of us don’t have the vision and stamina for that kind of singular pursuit. Thank God Ramon did. His faithful life was the fruit of his faith in Jesus. His life made a difference.

What difference will your life make? What are you consistently doing to improve the lives of others?