I always wondered what my reaction would be when I found my first gray.
Some friends told me they cried. Others ran for the tweezers or immediately picked up the phone and booked an appointment with their hairdresser. A guy friend of mine actually shaved his head. And some didn’t do anything but shrug.
What, after all, is the big deal?
Throughout my childhood, my parents constantly reinforced the principle that I should “act my age.” Sure, as a tortured teen-ager, it’s expected that you pine for the days of “When I grow up…”, and I was no different. But, my parents were so insistent that I not try to act or live a life older than where I currently was. Instead, they so encouraged the moment, the exact phase of childhood or adolecense or adulthood, I was currently in.
The dutiful daughter, I listened. I complied. And as I got older, I started taking their advice to mean “embrace your age.”
Be 13—obsessed with horses and friends and school and sports! Be 18—on the cusp of college, scared and nervous and hopeful and courageous! Be 22—biting the lip of the real world for the first time, boldly, bravely, hungrily!
Be 25—establishing a career, gaining professional confidence, building a network, breaking hearts and licking your own wounds, exploring cities, understanding the world. Be a late 20-something—more grounded, more centered, more focused, more inclined to stay in and cook a nice dinner with friends than go out and further build the credit card debt.
Be a 30-something—to be honest, I am still figuring out what exactly this phase of life entails.
It is as though my parents really wanted to say to me: “Embrace your age, embrace wherever your life has led you up to this point. Because, eventually, you will understand the rush of time.”
Time has, of course, always rushed. It’s just a matter of when you pick your head up and realize its frenzied passing and decide, right then and there, you don’t want to miss a single moment. Suddenly, you wouldn’t dream of wishing you were any other age or in any other place, because you know, fully, how quickly it all changes anyway. If anything, you start wishing you could hold time still. Or, better yet, hold it back.
I had this realization in my late twenties, I think. Around when I left Washington, DC for Boston, when I was 27. When I decided I wanted to make great and exciting changes, and I was possibly losing the time and chance to do so.
And each year since then, time seems to have gained momentum on me. It has become better conditioned. The harder I try to stand in one place, the harder time pushes more efficiently and effectively to move me forward.
And now, at 31, leaning against the bathroom sink at 7:30 a.m. on a Tuesday morning, brushing my teeth and pulling my bed-tangled hair back into a ponytail and staring into the fogged mirror, I find one shockingly bright, shockingly white, shockingly wiry gray hair.
And I laughed.
I stood there, and I laughed.
And then I grabbed the Listerine, and then the face wash. Downstairs, a pot of strong coffee brewed. My stomach growled for breakfast. I could hear my sister banging cupboards closed and my niece chattering and toddling from living room to kitchen to hallway to living room again, sometimes calling a hopeful, “Da da?!” up the stairs at me. I began to hurry, anxious to go down and swoop her up and begin our Tuesday morning routine together.
A whole day awaited. It didn’t even occur to me to stand there and commemorate and care about my discovery.
When your life starts to feel like it has a history—when you can sit back and know your stories fill chapters—perhaps it is natural to feel less inclined to pause and place meaning on everything. Because you are older and wiser and better able to identify that some milestones (by societal standards) are merely passing moments in your own life. What do they matter? Because, with time, you become better equipped at identifying the true moments to remember and record: the warm, wonderful smell of a child’s neck right before bedtime; the shiver of delight and the wave of comfort that never goes away when kissing the one you love; the length and strength of limbs freshly rinsed cleaned by yoga or running or swimming; the first taste of summer corn; a father’s hug; a mother bathing her 31-year-old daughter the day after she’s given birth to her first child; the smell of the ocean on your fingertips.
The nostalgic romantic in me constantly wants to place MEANING on EVERYTHING. But, that isn’t realistic. That isn’t practical. That kind of behavior isn’t, well, embracing my age.
I’m old enough, at 31, to know a gray hair isn’t a sign of anything other than biology and genetics playing its natural role.
Of course, I’m still young enough to want to document it.
Something tells me, though, that particular penchant of mine, that need to write it all down for memory’s safe-keeping, won’t fade with the onslaught of time or the phase of life through which I’m moving, no matter how old or how gray I get.