Going Gray (or Blue)

About a year ago I decided to give in. No, I decided to embrace. Gray. I've never looked back. But I was more than ready. Read on as dear friend, Leslie Leyland Fields processes her feelings about gray ... and more.


Going Gray (or Blue) at 62

By Leslie Leyland Fields

I didn't sleep last night. I was anxious, fitful. It wasn't politics or global warming or the 200 pages of essays I needed to edit, though all of these perfectly respectable causes for insomnia were on my mind. But it was something else: I was obsessed with going gray.

Was it a fantasy, anticipating liberation from the drug store box, the stained towels, the end of the skunk-like stripe emerging from the part of my black hair just two weeks after the last dose? Or perhaps it was a nightmare, envisioning myself as a lonely white-crowned crone, bleached into invisibility.

I'm not sure how to label it even now in the clear light of morning. You know, that merciless light that shows a little more crepe-ing of the neck than last year, a little more thinning of the hair, the deepening of the frown lines between the brows.

It's nearly my birthday, can you tell? I'm a liberated woman so I can tell you straight out: I'm turning 62. Thirty years ago I thought I would be old at 50. Twenty years ago I thought I would be old at 60. Now I think I might be old at 85. Or maybe sooner, who knows?

I know a man who owns and runs a tavern, who drives to work every day - he's 100. I know a woman who started waiting to die at 80. I know a man who retired and became inflexible and old at 55.

So maybe I should stop coloring my hair. Because it's not about the hair, is it, this age thing? It's about the mind, the heart, the spirit. The zest for life. To keep getting up in the morning unpeeling the hours for every bit of juice and pulp that can be squeezed from each day. To keep believing goodness will overwhelm the darkness; to keep sending homemade meals and stories and books and smoked salmon and chocolate chip cookies and cards out into the world to make life better for someone else. To keep seeing behind every mountain of laundry and drudgery another mountain to explore, a good movie to watch and an adventure to follow.

So maybe I should keep coloring my hair because when I look in the mirror and see the woman I recognize. I want to keep living like that, as I've always lived. See, I say to myself: I'm still the black-haired woman who puts on lipstick and a scarf whether I'm going to Walmart or Mongolia or an island in Alaska, who decided decades ago amid friends who dressed in sweats everyday that "life is short so dress up."

But I also know the power of dressing down, daring to wear what I want, skipping the fuss, the clicky heels, the blush, wearing boots and swinging a hammer or pulling a net, building houses, catching fish, hauling wood from distant beaches, never thinking about being beautiful, just glad for muscles and grit and the beauty of hard work. So why should I cover my gray?

Because I am still in love with beauty, watching every day for its flash and fire, hoping for a spark from the mirror, even, before it's too late. But these lines on my face and the faces of others older and lovelier than me teach me something truer: it is not the love of beauty that enlivens and sustains through long life; it is the beauty of love. Don't we know that everything done in love is splendorous and stunning? Don't we know our Maker already names us beloved and beautiful? And don't I know now, at 62, that love comes in every shape, size and hue: auburn, ash, golden brown, black, glittering gray and even tinted blue?

I may try each one of them someday. But tonight? Tonight I'll sleep the sleep of the loved.

Leslie Leyland Fields is the multi-award winning author/editor of eleven books, including The Wonder Years: 40 Women Over 40 on Aging, Faith, Beauty and Strength and Crossing the Waters: Following Jesus through the Storms, the Fish, the Doubt and the Seas, which won Christianity Today's 2017 Book Award in Christian Living. In 2020, Leslie and Michelle Van Loon are beginning national gatherings for The Wonder Years, bringing women together to equip them to make the second half of life the best half. Connect with Leslie at www.leslieleylandfields.com.

© Elisa Morgan 2020

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