Last week I made an appointment to, as they say here in my non-native Texas, get my hair did. The grays have been sprouting ferociously on my upward climb toward the other side of the hill and, while I pride myself on being comfortable with aging, I am too prideful to let these sprouts turn into an orchard atop my head. Each time they persist through the forest of brunette, I douse them with color. Or sometimes…rarely…I consider the possibility that this will be the time I decide to “go gray” (Which is also what they say, as though we have some sort of super-power to decide when our hair will lose its pigmentation). “Oh, I’ve decided to go gray.” Instead of the more truthful, “My hair is turning gray and I am powerless against it.”
How We See Ourselves
Getting my “hair did” is a complex thing for me. I hail from a family of sons who would laugh at my attempts of vanity in the antique hall mirror of the home in which we grew up. I have always been uncomfortable with my own gaze and yet curious for it nonetheless. Aren’t we all? Our own gaze, for males and females alike, tells the truth about who we are. It is, perhaps, the only time we can’t lie to ourselves or believe the lies we tell ourselves about who we are or wish we were or want to become. We can stand there and list a series of affirmations about ourselves or we can tell the truth: I am growing old. I am not as old as I wish I were. I am getting fat. I am getting gaunt. I am growing a child. I am not. I like what I see. I hate what I see.
The men I know say this is not as complex for them. I think this is tied to biology, not that they are less vain than women, but that there is no expiration date on their reproductive system. Every wrinkle, age spot, gray hair is another reminder to a woman that her womb is dying and her fertility with it. My husband wants me to let my gray hairs grow, but grays on him look dignified, peppered throughout his blond beard. On me, they look unkempt. It is not subjective that men grow more attractive as they age and women less. It’s science.
The Bible on Aging
The Bible is not always particularly pleasant when it speaks of aging. “Advanced” from Job 32:7. “Old and gray,” Psalm 71:18. “Mortal,” Genesis 6:3. My personal favorite: “Wasting away,” 2 Corinthians 4:16. Even the poetry of Ecclesiastes 12 can’t make it sound sweet. A warning to the young, a litany of all the things that will fail one by one, and then a final word: “Absolute futility. Everything is futile.”
And you thought this would be a pick-me-up, Reader?
There is, though, a sweetness to the truth of what is happening in my body and the bodies of my peers: we know, even without looking in the mirror, we are wasting away and with that comes a strange renewal in our inward man. We know our days are numbered, and with them comes an urgency, unlike the urgency we felt in our teens and twenties. That urgency was full of angst and “What ifs?” and looking to others for cues and comfort. This urgency is bursting with agency, freedom, surety, and a strange comfort with these broken vessels in which we live.
We know we are cracking, the veins are working their way down to our very foundation or up to our outer beings, but inwardly we are being renewed day by day. This is what the Bible says. What seems to all the world as cracking, crumbling, graying, and wasting is this very moment being renewed. Headed, as they say, toward glory.
Changing in Many Ways
A friend who turned 40 recently told me what I told a friend who turned 30 recently, “I feel more myself than ever in this new decade.” It is strange, then, when what seems to all the world to be shrinking away is really just filling out, filling in, being filled to overflowing, brimming over, renewing day by day. It is a sweet gift from God, I think, that if we reach old age, we reach it with the fullness of a whole life behind us. That our gray hairs (Hoary, the KJV calls them.), if we’ll have them, are a crown of glory and found in the way of righteousness.
I find it easier to be kind, these days, and harder to hold a grudge, easier to assume the best, harder to snap back, easier to trust the Lord (and sweeter too), and harder to grow embittered. That’s the work of God because I worked with old folks for a short while and I know a hoary head doesn’t necessarily mean a sanctified vessel. But what a grace from God when it does.
I will keep my hair appointment because the cracks in this earthly jar are showing and I want to pretend, for a little while longer, I am more invincible than I am. But I think someday I will go gray, let the white tendrils of age grow or turn and prove I am not what I once was and by God’s grace I will not be tomorrow what I am today.