Letting the Silver Sparkle

I am letting the silver sparkle. Shimmery strands of light, dancing through a somewhat mousy head of hair. I am letting them grow, and I like them. But I have found that not everyone does.

One of my co-workers could barely contain her shock when she noticed it … “You need to get your hair done”, she thoughtfully pointed out. When I explained that I’d decided to let it grow in, she was amazed. “But why??” she demanded, peering at me beneath a thick mane of what can only be described as pomegranate-colored hair. “Me ? Never! I’m turning 49 this year, and I intend to fight it all the way!!” There was no point in arguing with her, but as we parted company, I too, wondered why … why do we feel we have to fight this wonderful privilege of growing into a beautiful time of our lives – a time of wisdom, and peace, and understanding?

Why is it that we are so very afraid of our gray?

In societies past those unruly hairs were seen as a sign of wisdom … a sign that those who displayed them had fought through the challenges of life and earned a glittering badge of honor. They were the ones we turned to, to find understanding of the things that vexed us. They knew what we did not, and were respected as having lived enough life to help guide us through the lessons of our difficult times. Today we honor the young … toddlers, in reality, who have traveled barely a quarter of their life. Those with little knowledge, little history and little wisdom. What is it that they give us? An illusion of immortality? A momentary reprieve from our own disappointment? Our misplaced admiration is given to what is so fleeting – a thing that disappears as a firefly would into the night, leaving nothing behind.

As I drove home that night, I wondered aloud at our distress of the advent of those first gray hairs. We color, we pluck, we wear hats. As with so many other things, we try so hard to be what we are not. We run from ourselves … we run from our pain, our sexuality, our intelligence, our soul … and our age. Is it a fear – a realization – that our days here are numbered? Of that I have no doubt. But perhaps those strands remind us, too, of what we didn’t do … of the dreams we held in our hearts years ago … and that we surrendered to what others told us we ‘should’ be. And we are running from that remembrance. Maybe the gray is to serve as a reminder that we were created exactly as we were meant to be. That the All of Who We Are was placed within us for a reason, and this life has been a gift. Even more-so, perhaps the grays are to remind us to not let the song end without dancing to the music in our heart.

I am grateful for my years. They’ve not all been easy … heavens no. Many have been extraordinarily difficult and challenging. But they are mine, as are these beautiful new hairs. All of the experiences I’ve had, all of the people I’ve met, all of the joy and the heartbreak – they are all mine. They make me who I am. They’ve taught me dear lessons, and taken me on journeys of the heart, mind, and soul. They have gifted me with 20,829 days so far. 20,829 days of the Breath of Life. I have earned these silver ribbons. I am proud of them, and they are my reward. It is a precious reward. It is mine, and it is me.

Yes, I have earned these glittery strands. They are beautiful, sparkling streaks of glimpses into eternity.

R. Catherine Smith

R. Catherine Smith is a published writer and photographer. The image shown in this article was taken by her.

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19 Comments

  1. I have been silver for a lot of years and I am only 60. Blessing from my family genetics. And yes, I dyed it for awhile. But then got tired of it and decided to let it go. I get lots of compliments on it. However, in the second breath, someone will say they would never do it. The other comment I get it it looks good on me but the person didn’t think it would look good on her. (Hmmmm, rarely men)

    Letting it go to its natural color also allowed me to be me. Not something I would like to be or pretend I am. I feel more authentic this way.

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  2. Catherine, your description of how hard it is to grow old in our society really spoke to me. When I turned 50 not so long ago, I felt so content and happy with myself and my life. I’ve had a few bumps along the way since then, and I’m starting to get glimpses of those good feelings again, which is almost a relief!

    Brandi Carlyle’s song “The Story” ties in so beautifully with these sentiments:
    All of these lines across my face, Tell you the story of who I am ,So many stories of where I’ve been, And how I got to where I am…..

    Every time I listen to these words, I feel OK and good about who I am…

    Go gracefully,
    Kirsten

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  3. My hair started going silver when I was 16. At that age I didn’t care because I was older than my dad was when he started to go silver (12). But at 25, when people thought I was 10 years older than my husband, I did care. 25 years later I still color my hair because when I look in the mirror, I see someone who looks as young as I feel. I’ve thought about letting my hair grow out, but I don’t think I can handle the instant aging. In addition, my skin is so pale, I’m convinced if my hair was white, I’d be practically transparent.

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    • I have the same issue. 36 is not when you should let your gray shine. And I’m quite pale. My mother, 20 years older, is in the process of making this decision. I think she should let it grow out but I am concerned about her paleness as well.

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  4. Very well put!! I enjoyed this article and ALMOST made me not want to dye my hair!!

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  5. I’m only 21 years old, and I’m starting to notice white hairs on my scalp. and honestly it freaks me out. Aging scares me. Death scares me. As the buddhists monks say “everyone is slowly dying”.

    But I was really intrigued when you said “we honor the young”. We honor the young instead of the old because they are more pure. I’m only one person, but through my experience, my encounters with older people compared to younger people hasn’t been that great. Working in a retirement home, the elders always acted like they wanted to “just get over with it”, I even remember one resident pointing to the sky and saying “I think he’s calling me!”

    I don’t respect the old. Some people are 18 years old and have the soul of an 80 year old, always whining about everything that’s going wrong in the world.

    I don’t think age has to do with our physical bodies, but how vibrant and excited we are. I know if I keep moving forward in my spiritual journey, I’ll just wake up feeling happy for no reason. Cuz honestly I’m only 21 and I have the stamina of a 60 year old, and I’ve been reversing my aging process with a healing modality called EFT(Emotional Freedom Technique).

    I respect the people who are old, yet carry the young spirit of a toddler.

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  6. Hi Catherine,
    I love my Mid Life, silver and all…..and there are many terrific years still to come.
    be good to yourself
    David

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  7. I choose a different path, and isn’t it wonderful that both options are open to us?

    I had my first hints of gray at age 18, and I am now much older than that. I married late and we adopted our twin daughters even later. They are now 12 years old and I feel responsible for keeping myself looking and feeling as young as possible, for their sake and my own. Coloring my hair is part of that choice. When they’ve asked me, “Mommy, how old are you? I respond “I’m 32 at heart.”

    And I am.

    It doesn’t mean I’m ignoring or disparaging the wisdom that comes with aging.

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  8. My Aunt’s hair turned gray when she was in her twenties. We definitely have a massive self-image problem in the U.S. perhaps bordering on vanity. Gray is just a color, and as you said the meaning was once an indication of wisdom.

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  9. I love this article! My mom started getting gray hair 5 years ago and she rocked the silver.

    Thanks for talking about this subject and getting the word out that silver is beautiful.

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  10. Beautiful post – it’s true – I am one to cover my grays – not ready yet to uncover the gray – someday maybe – maybe not – we’ll see when I get there.

    For now, it’s all good.

    Thanks for your wise words,
    Nancy

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  11. right on time
    i just started getting great hair!
    thank you for the post :)

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  12. Lovely post. Thank you for sharing. I tried a gray wig not long ago just to see if I should let the gray grow out. Several opinions (including my own) were to ‘keep coloring.’ Or ‘maybe some blue or pink streaks to liven it up might help.’ Guess I’ll let it grow out when the day comes that I can’t lift the dye bottle or tolerate sitting in the salon for hours.

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    • I put some think streaks of pink in mine around my face — my hair is in a pixie cut. I love it. Spiced it up, helps give me an awareness of my friends who have/had cancer. It will grow out again; I may do it again.

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  13. I was since childhood part of a church that forbade a woman to color her hair. Or cut it. It was intended to be an act of obedience and humility, but over the multiple generations of its long rooted teaching it produced an ugly, unkempt female philosophy. To be holy and female was to be dowdy.
    Though my mother has long, gorgeous gray hair that earns her praise wherever she goes, I have no intention of letting my gray hang out at this stage of my life. Coloring my hair, along with many other beautifying efforts long forbidden to me, is a luxury of being feminine. I can actually engage in typical female behavior after leaving my stringent tenets tangled up with faith behind.
    I’d been androgynous for a lifetime, unable to carry out girlish tendencies. No jewelry, no make-up, no altering the hair, no nail polish. Even after finding liberty in my conscience to do these things, it still felt awkward to apply mascara at nearly 40 years of age.
    Coloring my hair is not an attempt to run from truth about myself, it’s an echo of the truth I’ve been permitted to discover about myself.

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  14. What a lovely post Catherine. I don’t have many of those silver strands yet but I find myself celebrating them as they arrive. So many of us view aging with fear and have that “fight is as hard as I can mentality”. From hair dye, to Botox, to surgery. Growing old is a process that has value in and of itself. I intend to embrace it every step of the way. Working to stay healthy and strong is much more important than being youthful and beautiful.

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  15. A beautiful post – everything you say is so insightful. I have a different perspective than most of my friends and family because of my own relationship with hair – at 22, I began losing significant amounts of my once famous, envied, and gorgeous long locks of thick, natural brown hair. At what I assumed would be the peak of my physical beauty, I was confronted with all of these ideas of aging, physical apperances, and what we think of ourselves when we look into the mirror. My hair thinned because of incorrect medications and a lot of stressful events, and I have no idea if things will reverse and if my hair will grow back into its former thick glory days.

    But I do now know that our bodies will, and do, age, without our consent. Sometimes the one thing we prize in our looks when we’re young is the first to go, like perfect glowing skin or tight thighs toned legs. On the other hand, some people maintain those “desirable” attributes well into their old age, without ever worrying about it too much or obsessively using products every day to make sure it lasts. How are we to know which part of our body will change when nature decides to change it?
    It can be seen as a beautiful process, a learning lesson in humility and appreciation for what really matters. But unfortunately most of us definitely are terrified of the process, fight it as much as we possibly can, and hide those “flaws” away from the outside world.

    At only 24, I see anyone with a full head of hair, whether it’s dyed bright green or it’s silvery gray, and I envy them. I would actually be happier with a full head of white hairs than I am now with what I have, even though most people can’t even notice anything is wrong with my hair. I am entering into a new place now, though, where even though I am only in my twenties I try my hardest to look beneath any outward appearances, whether they be physical or emotional. Because everyone is struggling with their image, even if their friends think they are the most beautiful. It makes me look closely at my own insecurities, and then I realize how everybody usually wants what they don’t have, when it comes to a physical apperance that WE DIDN’T CHOOSE ourselves. Curly haired girls straighten their hair. Straight haired girls get perms. Sure it’s fun to play around, but I love when I meet someone who embraces their body the way it was born. Natural and beautiful!

    I don’t want people to be afraid of aging because if they are, then the negative voices in my head tell me that it’s okay for me to obsess and freak out and be depressed about my own aging process. But really, I shouldn’t be worried. Life is good, and people love me.

    :) Thanks

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  16. Catherine, I admire your wisdom and the contentment and serenity you have found in aging. Unfortunately, the people making hiring decisions in our society do not generally share your view. Age discrimination is real, as anyone who’s been laid off and is looking for a job at age 50 or above can tell you. It’s wonderful that you can enjoy your gray hair. Many of us are not so lucky. We have to do everything we can to appear as young as we can, in order to be given the opportunity to make a living.

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  17. I enjoyed the two differing views. While I love Catherine’s imagery about letting the silver sparkle, as James says, sometimes people judge you on sight and can decide you are “too old”. Not everyone colours their hair to hide their age Colouring your hair can be an expression of who you are, just as what you wear is. One lady young at heart but advanced in years dyes her hair all colours of the rainbow–not because she wants to look younger, but because it makes her happy and other people smile–you can enjoy growing old AND dye your hair….

    Reply

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