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Growing old might not be such a bad thing after all

POSTED: September 28, 2017 9:11 a.m.
Amy Choate-Nielsen/

I can trick most of my body into thinking it's still fresh and young, but let's face it, I'm no spring chicken. One part of myself knows well, and it's not going to play along with the youthful charade.

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I have experienced an interesting phenomenon in the last few years: I am getting older.

It’s been happening for a while, sure. Every day. But this last year, I realized the days of my youth are starting to ebb like the tide on its way to the sea. My children are getting bigger. My joints are getting creakier. The days are going by faster.

I’m still young, but the water on my shore doesn’t seem to rise quite as high as it used to. Before I know it, I sense that I will be wondering why so many more people are calling me “ma’am” and writing poems about how much I miss the fingerprints on the walls.

For the most part, I’m in denial about this process. I ran a half-marathon last weekend with no training just to see if I could do it. Mid-stride, I had a passing thought that maybe I was fooling myself that I am still able to do these things. A couple of years ago I thought I wanted to run a marathon, but when I stumbled across the finish line last week I felt slower, and sorer, and I realized that ship has probably sailed.

I tricked my mind into thinking I could do this race, I pushed my knees and my lungs and my heart, and all the parts of my body got in line and decided we’re still young and full of vitality and we can do whatever we want.

But one part of my body will not be fooled. It knows exactly what is going on.

In Alaska, there is a beautiful plant that covers the ground in a blanket of bright pink blossoms every summer. The flowers begin blooming at the base of a central stalk some time in July, and then head up until finally, the flowers cover the whole stem. Once a fireweed plant has bloomed to the top of its stem, Alaskans say the first snowfall is only six weeks away. By the time autumn rolls around, the plant no longer has any petals, and its leaves are a bright, flaming red.

My hair thinks this sounds like a great idea. It is my personal fireweed, only, instead of growing into a gorgeous red, my mane is slowly turning white.

Daily, I run my hands through my hair and I find dark, brown strands that are smooth and long and mostly straight. They are the ones that I’m familiar with. The ones I’ve seen since I was a little girl. They don’t cause trouble. They behave.

But my white hair has its own personality.

Those are the strands that are wild and erratic. They kink and curve and jerk to the right and then jump left and defy gravity until they run out of length. They don’t care for conformity. They don’t care what you think. They laugh at anybody who tries to contain them or change them. They challenge authority.

I looked at one of those white strands that fell into my lap today. It was defiant and crazy, empowered and maniacal. It made me laugh.

This white hair doesn’t believe in getting old and slow and boring. It believes in breaking free, going where it wants and living it up as long as it has something to hold on to. The vigor in its crinkle and twist make me laugh at the irony. Who would have ever thought I could be inspired by white hair at age 37?

My grandmother had grey, then white hair for as long as I knew her, but my mother started dying her hair when she was my age. I remember the shock I felt when she told me her real hair color was salt-and-pepper and not the chestnut hue she displayed. I felt like she had been hiding something from me.

My son asks me why my head is turning white, even though he is a cause.

My friends ask why don’t I just dye it and be done?

But, so far, I can’t bring myself to cover up who I have become. I bear pressure with grace, and I imagine that I put all of that stress into the root of my hair. Maybe that’s why they grow with such wild abandon. They are the antithesis of the pain that put them there; my subconscious protest against things that don’t really matter.

Is the tide of my youth ebbing away? Nonsense, that white hair says. The fun is just getting started.
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