I remember finding my first gray hair. On a head of hair that couldn’t be any straighter, this rogue, wiry sprout of silver made itself known near my part just back from my forehead.
“Tada. I’m here,” is what it said, probably, in its little hair brain.
I found it just as I was preparing for my first real backpacking trip, down to the belly of the Grand Canyon to splash around in a few insanely beautiful waterfalls. And while down there, I met this person who wondered what I was writing about all the time, and I told him all about the personal muck I was working hard to clear.
How the trip was an escape for me. How I needed an adventure to remind myself of myself. And how I had found a gray hair.
That was Ron who asked me, as we laid on rocks and listened to a tiered waterfall pour over its own self a few times. He told me during that unforgettable conversation that the elders from the tribe, which owned the paradise we were enjoying, looked at gray hair as evidence of wisdom.
Gray, in other words, was earned. It signaled tenure. It represented a life lived. It showed others that you’ve learned a few things, experienced a few things, and may know a few things.
That philosophy resonated instantly, and not just because I’m a hippie. It was so cool and so removed from what our mainstream culture believes – that gray indicates age, which indicates shelf life, which indicates a downhill slide, which essentially equals a level of unattractiveness.
But, since that one squiggly guy popped up, it’s invited a few friends – not all squiggly, which is weird and interesting. I guess you could say I’ve earned my stripes. And I have no desire to cover them up, unless they fall in that one little section that I habitually color with red Kool-Aid.
I just am what I am. And I’m proud of what I’ve learned and what I’ve lived, and I’m curious what will make my gray hair party bigger. Something tells me it will involve the teenage years for my kids, but I’m sure there will be other goodies in there, too.
Most recently, I’ve learned that my kids know exactly who I am, because I show them every day. I’ve learned I apologize too much. I’ve learned that the stripes I’ve earned are helping others.
And, I’ll learn more. Because I’m curious.
I recently heard age described as levels instead of years, like in video game terms, so that the higher the age the higher the level. That’s funny – but also correct, right? With each level you clear any number of obstacles – just maybe not sliding turtle shells or little goombas in real life. And then you earn the next level.
So, yeah. I’m level 41. Because I slid down the flagpole on level 40.