Be worthy of your gray
What reminders of mortality can do for us
The Brits say “grey”; the Yanks say “gray.” But either way, it’s “a horse of that color,” as Olivia’s servant Maria said in Twelfth Night (Act 2, Scene 3): My hair is now officially achromatic.
It was threatening gray for many years, first with halfhearted peek-a-boo threats in my 50s, then more stridently. So I finally defused the power of the terror by throwing down the gauntlet: “Come and get me, gray! I’m ready for ya.”
Scripture says men are held in bondage all their lives by fear of death (Hebrews 2:15). And women by fear of gray. The secret is that once confronted, the boogeyman is not so formidable after all. Indeed, the good thing about gray hair is that you don’t have to dread roots anymore—those little pinpricks, those thousand points of white on the scalp that you pretend for two weeks not to see; that portend an imminent takeover of the brown team by the gray team; that publish the lie for all to see that your youth is from a bottle.
’Tis a long and unsavory story, this quest for endless youth. The ancient Romans fermented leeches in a lead vessel to make black dye. The Germans concocted red hair coloring of goats’ fat and beechwood ash. Human ingenuity employed henna, alfalfa, saffron, and indigo. Despite being dyed, they all died.
I embrace thee, gray! In the late 20th century we sang, “Let my freak flag fly” (Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young). In the early 21st century, let that flag be gray—which is the new “in” color, I am told. A real estate agent says the house down the block will never fetch the asking price, with its deep red and dark blue interior walls and porcelain dolls on every shelf and cove: “Today’s generation wants to walk into a prospective house and see gray walls and white trim,” she educated me.
Even cars are mostly shades of gray now, which makes it hard to find mine in the Walmart lot. Ah, for the bright, distinct cars of my childhood: our 1950 cornflower blue Pontiac convertible; 1955 two-tone green Ford Fairlane; 1960 Ford Country Squire with the woodgrain trim on the side; 1967 black Pontiac Tempest; copper-colored AMC Javelin; canary yellow Karmann Ghia. Today we’ve practically reverted to the automobile before 1925, which you could get in any color “as long as it’s black.”
I told my sister that I’ll be respected now. She wrote back to me, “You’ll be invisible now.”
Maybe so. But the fact that God—the all-wise Creator who did all things well and pronounced it “very good” (Genesis 1:31)—so designed our hair follicles to run out of pigment in our 40s and our hearts to stop beating only in our 80s makes me grope for a deeper purpose in His will. Can it be that prematurely graying is the gentle warning that we need? Who else will trade in worldly merriment for “sober-mindedness” (2 Timothy 4:5) unless he gets a preview of life’s ending from afar?
Indeed, God calls them foolish who rush about in this world’s business heedless of the signals that their body’s alterations are supposed to lead them to repentance: “Strangers devour his strength, and he knows it not; gray hairs are sprinkled upon him, and he knows it not” (Hosea 7:9).
A worse fate than gray hair awaits the one who plunges partying and mindless into dotage. He is like the fig tree that the Lord spied from a distance and would fain have slaked his hunger, which he found bereft of figs. And seeing it was useless for all nourishment, he cursed it and it withered on the spot. Gray heads should have mouths that impart food to weary travelers through life. “Gray hair is a crown of glory” (Proverbs 16:31)—but only on the pates of wise men, not of fools.
The ancients said, “Be worthy of your beard.” The Bible bids us, men and women, to be worthy of our gray. Or grey.
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