Joining the Silver Revolution

The VIEW from here

 

 

“Can I ask you a question?” a patron asks before leaving the library.

“Sure,” I say.

“Did you used to color your hair?”

I laugh, knowing that my hair looks quite different than it used to. Much different, in fact, than it looks on this very page. “Well … yes.”

“I knew it,” he says, considering me. “You used to look younger. You still look good, but you don’t look as young as you used to. Well, have a great day.”

I’ve replayed this exchange in my mind for days, smiling because I am easily amused. It also leaves me wondering about the stories we tell as we collectively decide what it means to be young and old. I rise to the challenge of changing the narrative.

Although I’ve been coloring my hair for decades, a little before Easter I decided that I didn’t want to buy a box of Garnier Natural Brown every three weeks anymore. I no longer understood why I was engaging in a ritual that was taking up so much time, or why I was fighting the natural progression of things. I decided to embrace this rather simple (and lovely) part of life and living.

That’s not to say it isn’t somewhat of a big deal. After all, my mother was a very fancy lady, a woman who colored and coifed her hair into gravity-defying style, and who wore wigs for the last decade of her life, even in the nursing home where she lived her final years. She was thrilled to have three daughters, all with heads of hair she could curl, tease, and perm until we were old enough to take our hair into our own hands. She was not always pleased with my hair choices, at times offering wigs, insisting they were my style. Without a doubt, she would not be pleased with my decision to participate with nature now.

Our culture has words for this transformation, at least for women.

Words like, “she let herself go” and “maybe she just doesn’t care anymore.” My own experience says they need to be edited to “she let herself become” and “she was curious to see what would happen next.”

Those phrases sound truer to what I feel now.

This is what I know: ever since I was young, people have been warning me about getting “old.” When I was in my twenties, my thirty-year-old friends would warn me about that decade. When I was firmly planted there, my 40-year-old friends bemoaned aches and pains. Today, the people who share their mid-50s with me talk about being old. “You can’t be old,” I say. “We’re the same age!”

I’m learning to listen halfheartedly to the warnings and opinions of others, preferring instead to listen to my older self. Somewhere inside me, my 70 and 80 and 90-year-old selves are whispering. They’re saying, “You are young. Run and enjoy your healthy heart and knees. Go to the woods and climb and hike and explore all the beauty there is to see. Love the people who intersect with your life, even the well-meaning ones who say goofy things and are fighting battles of their own. Live. Life is a beautiful thing, and it doesn’t last forever. Watch sunrises and sunsets. And wear the freaking bathing suit.”

It is in that spirit that when a male co-worker says to me, “So, you’ve decided to go gray?” I answer, “Silver. I prefer silver.” He laughs and I stand taller, look him directly in the eye. Whatever comes next, I say … bring it.

Eileen Button teaches at Mott Community College and serves patrons at the Genesee District Library. She can be reached at button.eileen@gmail.com.