Whenever I see a woman who has dared to let herself go gray, I dance a little inner jig and shoot a psychic “You GO girl!” in her direction. I view it as a public and private statement: “The search for eternal youth is for sissies.” I love it whenever anyone sticks a thumb in the eye of American culture’s age-ist and superficial attitudes. It suggests a certain feistiness, a defiance of the desperately youth-obsessed zeitgeist that has women in their thirties and even in their twenties panicking about crows’ feet and laugh lines, and reaching for their Botox.
I don’t know about you, but it seems weird to see so many apparent “thirty-somethings” floating around. Granted, many of them are so well-maintained that it’s nearly impossible to tell that their nearly flawless faces and taut chins and necks are manufactured through surgery and various chemical concoctions. But there is one test that rarely fails.
Hands don’t lie
My husband pointed this out to me. He’s a photographer, and has learned some good tricks for photographing “women of a certain age.” He has taken pictures of women whose youthful faces are belied by their incipiently wrinkling, vein-y, age-spotted hands.* I suppose if you’re über-wealthy you could find a plastic surgeon somewhere to do a “hand-lift,” maybe cut and tuck the sagging skin on your middle-aged mitts, but I doubt it would become a trend.
So what does this say about us as a culture? Ummmm . . . that we’re terrified of aging and the thought of our non-negotiable mortality? It’s true that Americans have trouble dealing with death. We just wanta have fun. Don’t make us think about responsibility, growing up, accepting the natural ebb and flow of life. Give us the car keys and don’t wait up for us.
We’re all headed toward the same place
However, there’s no way out. Somebody gave us our tickets, and now we have to take the train ride all the way to the end. Along the way we’ll stumble across joy, love, terror, confusion, the whole package. And grief is a given. Experiencing the first death of someone very dear to you will probably knock you sideways. It’s supposed to. Grief is one of the greatest measures of how deeply we love. Hopefully it’s also a reminder that we don’t have an infinite amount of time to communicate our love; that having an unwrinkled brow, a closet full of designer duds, and the latest high-end luxury SUV or sports coupe are utterly meaningless in the grand scheme of things. Show me the woman who on her deathbed wishes she’d had more plastic surgery, and I’ll show you someone who lost her true beauty–and herself–long ago.
And anyway, all you’ve got is right now
We love lingering in the past, and making often wildly inaccurate predictions about what we think the future holds for us. If I could cash in the amount of time I’ve spent simmering in a chronic state of low-grade anxiety about the future and tack it on to the end of my life, I could give Methuselah a run for his money. I’ve only recently begun to comprehend how much swimming around in my worry-pot for the past three or four decades has kept me from focusing my full energy and intent on whatever is in front of me in the right-now moment.
So what does this have to do with going gray?
Maybe just that acceptance of what is, and moving mindfully from this moment to the next, can save us a lot of misdirected energy and angst. What stands in front of you now is all you’ve got. (In my case it’s a sweet and goofy cat with bad breath who wants into my lap.)
Sometimes it works better to gently hold rather than grasp things, be here now, and travel light.
[*Lest anyone take offense, I’m first in line to cop to wrinkles, liver spots and bulgy veins . . .]