I have recently decided to stop coloring my hair at the age of 62. Rather than wanting to look younger…I want to look as I am. Many within my circle have tried to convince me to stay “blonde.” They have, perhaps, been conditioned by the media into thinking aging is a negative thing that I should avoid it at all costs. But, in the dawning of my senior years I want to stand in my truth–and be perceived as a mind and a human rather than just a pretty plaything. I am finding that not coloring my hair has been an empowering experience. I feel that I am regarded differently, but not in a bad way. It is almost as if my gray speaks for me, saying “I am not frivolous. I have valuable life experience. Listen to the wisdom of my life.”
Perhaps it’s all in my head. Or on my head, as the case may be. Although being thought attractive is generally a ne plus ultra priority for many women, I have always regarded my heart and my intellect to be those things I most value about myself. And now, at this late date, I am finding the appearance of my gray hair to be a valued strength as well. It has taken a lot of resistance, perhaps obstinance to get to the point where I can feel that if anyone–male or female cannot see the wealth of gravitas in that grey hair, well then, they must be quite vapid; they are valuing something inconsequential and fleeting, something NOT REAL. In the young this can be forgiven. My 35 year old daughter is just beginning to discover her own beliefs and replace those that society, the media and even her parents downloaded into her as she was growing up. But in the, ahem, mature folk–this attitude is quite unflattering. It shouts “I am a follower, and I want you to be one as well. Don’t rock the boat.” It hints that they may not have an interior life where they have reflected and reckoned, and discovered what it is that is true in the world. It is easier to follow, and to gang up on those who don’t.
Fortunately for me, I have never bowed, well…only a few times…and I learned to regret those times I betrayed my inner beliefs. My trajectory was changed in some ways because of those decisions, not in a way I would have chosen myself. I love Mitch Albom’s words from “The Five People You Meet in Heaven” because they disclose one of the secrets in the universe:
“All parents damage their children. It cannot be helped. Youth, like pristine glass, absorbs the prints of its handlers. Some parents smudge, others crack, a few shatter childhoods completely into jagged little pieces, beyond repair.”
I was a shattered child. But a gift came along with being shattered. It made me search for relief, and knowledge, and understanding. Along the way, after many decades I have become the self I’ve re-created myself to be–in my own image. In God’s image. I choose who I do and do not wish to be. I’m happy and at peace with this. I wish it for every child, especially the abused children of the world. That they can know that if they just hold on, they will be given the chance to undo some of the shattering, that it is the “other” who is wrong, that they will be able to reach for the light.
In my former life as a librarian and educator, I used Mitch Albom’s words as a way to enter the sadness in the lives of my students. I shared my story, and oh, they shared their own. So much pain. 5th graders who poured out their hearts and found solace knowing that they would one day be able to repair themselves. That they had value and worth and were loveable. That they could partake in the most important gift–a belief in themselves.
And so perhaps I was gifted with a warrior spirit. Or perhaps I have learned who I really am as a person. Who wanted, as Pinnochio said, “to be a real boy.” I wear my long, grey hair as a badge of courage. As a sign of the path I’ve traveled and an emblem of my belief in the real me. I am proud to be gray. When I look in the mirror, it tells me I’ve arrived. I’m real.