Mr. Cross Faces Alopecia With Grace and Resilience


On a chilly November afternoon, Middle School English teacher John Cross sat at a table near the library with a pink flower crown on his head and a mind filled with stories. If there was one thing different about Mr. Cross’s iconic look complete with the flower crown, rainbow socks, a clown nose, and patterned, button-down shirts, it was his new haircut. Before Miss Kiphart, former Lower School Humanities Teacher left for a solo retreat in New Mexico, she noticed that Mr. Cross had little bald spots on his head. Not long after that, they realized the small spots were growing. He took some pictures and shared them with his doctor. The doctor then asked Mr. Cross some questions and confirmed his suspicions. Mr. Cross was diagnosed with acute alopecia, a stress-induced condition that resulted in hair loss. 

Mr. Cross could think of quite a few reasons for developing alopecia after considering the major changes in his life over the last few years. As if being a 7th-grade English teacher wasn’t stressful enough, like all of us, pandemic stress took a toll on him as well. “I think it was that kind of culminating thing after teaching remotely. We also bought a house in the middle of the pandemic, and buying a house and moving all the while being masked up and all that stuff is very stressful. I think it was my body catching up to me,” Mr. Cross said.

Determined to mitigate the stress and keep his head up during this challenging time, Mr. Cross began practicing mindfulness and breathing deeply in an effort to regain his composure. 

Eventually, he grew weary of the hair loss and decided to take action. Mr. Cross jokingly stated that he didn’t want to end up like the long-haired version of Rudy Giuliani, so he opted for a more direct approach. After receiving support from Miss Kiphart, Mr. Cross decided to shave his entire head. Instead of viewing the condition as something to be ashamed of, he embraced this opportunity and viewed it as a new adventure.

But things are never as simple as they seem, and the story took on another layer when Mr. Cross ran into his neighbor, Jeremy. Jeremy teaches Upper School English at La Salle and had become good friends with Mr. Cross immediately after the move due to their shared teaching experience. When Mr. Cross told him about the haircut, Jeremy said, “I can shave your head. Really, I’m gonna cut my boy’s hair in the back on the deck, so come on over Saturday morning.” Mr. Cross accepted Jeremy’s offer.

Jeremy had an interesting idea regarding Mr. Cross’s hair remains. Instead of letting them go to waste, Jeremy suggested they bury the hair with his own father’s ashes. Jeremy promised to grow plants on the land and one day pluck a really excellent carrot for Mr. Cross. “It was an honor. I knew it had to happen,” said Mr. Cross, who was thoroughly moved by Jeremy’s meaningful gesture. 

On the day of the haircut, Mr. Cross was ready. Jeremy brought his electric clippers and a razor. The tufts of hair fell to the ground.  Afterward, Jeremy invited Mr. Cross to dinner. They chatted for hours, telling jokes to each other and sharing parts of their lives. “It felt like a real bonding experience. We definitely became closer,” said Mr. Cross.

When Mr. Cross returned back to school the following week, the class of 7th graders expressed their approval by showering him with words of encouragement, including “slay” multiple times. Nowadays, they joke about his hair and recommend hairstyles to try. “You know, it’s become a source of play, which is also a good thing,” he said. 

In the end, Mr. Cross has embraced his condition as a learning opportunity and reminder of how to meet challenges. He said, “You know what we have to do in stressful situations. We just put our heads down and keep moving.”