Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The First Gray

A few nights ago, exactly two weeks before my 34th birthday, I found my first gray hair. I don't normally comb my head looking for signs of impending age but it was RIGHT THERE. Sticking up off my scalp. Screaming at the mirror- "look at me, look at me!". And I panicked. I did. For at least a whole minute. My husband, of course, patiently examined it for me to confirm whether it was, in fact, a gray hair or just a random extremely blond one reflecting the light. Yeah, because I have those.

After the panic subsided, I sat back and wondered exactly why I panicked. I've been in staff work for 11 years now and something I've always told my graduating seniors is that their twenties are going to be harder than they think. That transition from having magically wonderful long breaks every few months of one's life, of a schedule that includes long meals with friends every day, easy-to-find friends and community- well, it can pretty much disappear about 24 hours after graduation.  The twenties are filled with goodbyes and transitions. I said goodbye to the best college roommates possible, a faith community that shaped me in uncountable ways, a campus I had fallen in love with, the home and town I grew up in, the idea of ever living with my parents again, being single, my personal space and the vague illusion that I was still somehow young enough to have few responsibilities. I transitioned to new homes, marriage, parenthood, jobs, friendships and an increasing awareness of my own smallness in the vast scale of the world. Much of this was good, but it is also exhausting to be in constant flux.

When I turned 30 I rejoiced. I looked forward to a potentially calmer decade. Of course, right around that time we decided that Reed would pursue grad school and we'd make another huge transition by leaving our church, neighborhood, city, jobs and friends to move from Virginia to North Carolina. Despite all the change, however, this has felt different. It has felt calmer and sweeter than most of the earlier transitions. I have felt more rooted, more relaxed about the transience of our life. My pastor recently said that he hopes our souls are more rested at 80 than they are at 25. My first thought, "Well, they'd freaking better be!" thankfully didn't fly out of my mouth. I ruminated to myself instead. How sad would it be to hit that age and be more restless than I was 10 years ago?

The thing is that when I really thought about that gray hair, after what I can only deduce to have been a full-scale-societal-pressure-influenced freakout, I thought it might actually be a little bit beautiful. Another notch on that perpetual wall where we measure how grown up we're getting. Aging has this nasty connotation to it in America -  that something wrong or bad or evil is happening to us, that it's something we have to arrest at all costs. Every beauty commercial out there is geared toward telling me how to stay young-looking. But why? Why should I yearn to look the way I did 10 years ago, why should I wish that my life would stand still or that my face and head shouldn't reflect the ups and downs of the life I'm living? If I want my soul to be more rested at the age of 80 than it was at 25, this is yet another area of change that I have to embrace. Like the craters and pock-marks my own soul has suffered, my body will have to endure some changes, too.

It's up to me not to "age gracefully" (does anyone else feel like that's a condescending term, anyway?) but to live life each day, gray hair sprouting and wrinkles forming around my eyes, with my eyes pointed in the direction of my Lord, not at what's happening to my face or what used to be in my life. Because the reality is that I wouldn't want to be 25 again. I like who I am. I like being in my mid-thirties and that my stability is not rooted right now in the fact that we've "settled" somewhere. The truth is that we haven't. There are still more adventures in our future and we know not where or when. That should terrify me. But the internal chaos that accompanied all the transitions when I was younger is increasingly absent. The ways my soul has changed make the unknowns and the growing up less painful. And way more fun. Some people say it's all downhill after 30. Well, I'll just hop on a sled and enjoy the ride, then. Sounds like a lot less work than climbing uphill all the time.

Proverbs 20:29 says "the glory of young men is their strength, gray hair the splendor of the old." 

I say bring on the splendor.

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