Franz Jacob is a barber in the small town Rouyn-Noranda, Quebec. One of Franz’s regulars is six-year-old Wyatt. Wyatt is autistic – he has trouble sitting still and he’s hypersensitive to being touched.
So Franz will follow Wyatt around his shop as needed. He’ll crawl on the floor with Wyatt and clip the boy’s hair a snip and a shear at a time. Wyatt will sometimes just lie down on the floor, so Franz will lie down on the floor, too, taking as much time as Wyatt needs.
Many barbers and hairdressers don’t know how to deal with clients with disabilities like autism, but Franz Jacob has several regular customers with autism, Wyatt being the youngest. He’s learned how to adapt to their needs. He schedules them for the end of the day so he can take the time he needs, as long as an hour to 90 minutes. “I lock the front door. It has to stay quiet,” explains Franz. “I’m just being really patient because they are [the ones] driving those moments.”
To Wyatt’s mom, Franz Jacob is a hero.
“He welcomes my son like his best friend. To see that he accepts these differences is just fantastic,” she says.
After one of their visits to the shop, Wyatt’s mother published a photo she took of the burly, grizzly-bearded, tattooed barber lying on the floor of his shop giving her son a haircut. The photo was posted online and in the local paper and picked up by newspapers throughout Canada, and made the barber a hero – but Franz says, “I don’t see myself like that, I’m just doing my best all the time for my community.”
In what our Christian tradition has come to call the “Incarnation,” the God of love becomes one of us so that we might become one with God. But Incarnation is not only an event but a practice: that we “embody” the love of God for the sake of others. A barber in Canada becomes the “incarnation” of God’s love when he puts aside his adult world to bend down and crawl on the floor to enter the world of his young autistic client. May this Christmas be the beginning of our own “practice” of incarnation: to leave our own self-centred world to travel humbly in the world of those in need and, through our patience, understanding and generosity, to make the compassion and peace of God a reality in their lives.