Several years ago, David was standing over my head while I was sitting in a chair. I was way overdue on coloring my hair. I said “don’t look at the grays.” He said “I love each and every one of your gray hairs.” That’s one way I know he loves me a lot. Because I have a whole lot of them.
I wish I could be content with my grays. I wish I could not care anymore and let them go. I wish that every time I looked in the mirror, I wasn’t checking to see if they are yet starting to show, and counting the days or weeks left until my next color appointment. I wish I could pull off a mostly full gray head at age 34, because I think what’s behind those gray hairs says a lot about who I am. They tell a lot of stories. They hold a lot of memories. They come from some strong roots.
My dad likes to remind me from time to time that my grandmother went gray early too, which is likely where I get it from. Sometimes when I look at those hairs, I think about her. About her strength and her deep faith and her stubbornness and I wish that I had more of those first two than I do of the 3rd which I know I have plenty of.
These now-gray-but-colored-brown hairs have been on some amazing journeys. Back when they were highlighted blonde, they started travelling the world. First to Poland, then to China and then to Azerbaijan and then to Kenya and then back to Poland and then to Trinidad and then to London and then to China again. These hairs have seen a lot of the world. But then I think about how much more of it there is left to discover. Thinking of blonde highlights also makes me think of Katie. And Adirondack chairs on the beach of St. Simmons, and an entire lifetime of the world’s problems we solved by sitting in those chairs.
Somewhere in the midst of those travels, I stopped lightening the hair (and it started turning gray) and went a bit darker than what I am naturally, I think. And that color, or a close variation of it, has stuck. The change to a darker color takes me to a few years of fumbling around a bit, finishing grad school, trying to find the right job, figuring out what it meant to be an aunt, recovering from the emotional and spiritual toll that China had taken on me, and searching for a place I could live that would feel like a place I belonged. In the midst of this stumbling around, there were some really good times, some fun trips to Chicago and Statesboro and Disneyworld. A couple of forever-friendships were sealed in those years too, even though the likelihood of living near each other again is small.
Then there was a cross country move. A drive to change my life that I’ve been told is impressive or admirable but I viewed as necessary. In that change, there were a lot of gray hairs, because it took a while to find a good beautician that I could afford to go to regularly. I should have just gone all gray then. That was my opportunity.
But then those grays started being covered up, and I settled into a place that feels like home, and a career that seemed so destined, yet right this minute leaves me somewhat unfulfilled…that’s a string of thoughts for another time.
I really started thinking about my gray hairs a few weeks ago when I had to stretch out my appointments to longer than normal, and was briefly avoiding mirrors if I could. And I started thinking about not only what stories they could tell from the past, but about what they are carrying right now. A bit of heartache. Some missing connections. Longings yet to be met. Some beautiful friendships. Amazing adventures. Perfect days. Insecurities. Impossible moments. What feels like a whole lot of challenges. A faith that wants and needs to be strengthened. An attempt to be steady, safe and stable, for myself and for other people. Thoughts of how much of me has changed over last few years, but how much of me has truly stayed the same, and how few people really seem to see both who I am and who I want to be. Feeling like, even now, I am still, in some ways, searching for what my small place is in this anything but small world.
Maybe it’s because of the work I do. Maybe it’s because of things I’ve watched family and friends go through. Maybe it’s simply because I find that eternity is regularly on my mind. But I often find myself thinking about how fleeting life is, and what it’s going to be like at the end, whenever that happens to be for me. And I find myself wondering what my full head of gray hairs (I’m hoping) will be holding then. Will I look back at the life I lived and know that, mixed in with all of my many faults, I loved well, helped the hurting, was an encouragement to those who needed it, was grateful for how much I’ve been loved and the grace I’ve received, and lived a life that honored God? I don’t know if that’s what these gray hairs will be saying then, but it is my hope.
These are the things I think about when I look at my own reflection in the mirror, when I find myself frowning over how quickly the grays return. If I can, instead, think of the life behind them, them maybe I can begin to view them as something positive instead of just something to cover up. I’m doubtful I’ll feel that way any time soon, but I can try.