As I applied hair color to my hair today, I got to thinking about why I do this. For about the last ten years, it’s been a habit, something I just do. Today, for some reason, I questioned what I was doing. Nothing wrong with gray hair; I’ve seen many attractive women who have opted to go au naturel when it comes to their hair color – women who are smart, stylish, and sophisticated. So why do others decide that they need to go through the time, fuss, and expense to cover up that gray hair?
I think I discovered my first gray hair when I was about 35. It shocked me, but a friend reassured me that it would be many years before there would be enough gray to notice. She was right, and it wasn’t until I was at least 40 that I started getting highlights to hide some of the gray, and then several more years before I actually got brave enough to try hair color.
I guess I just didn’t want to have light brown hair mixed with gray. I thought that when all my hair turned gray that I would then let it be that way. From what I can tell, maybe 60% of my hair would now be gray – if I let it be. And I’m starting to think that it might have been easier to let it turn gray a little at a time and get used to it than someday stop coloring my hair and have it look weird while I wait for the brown (colored) hair to grow out. Too late now though – I guess I’ll just keep doing what I’m doing until I feel it’s time to make a change.
Hair color is just one of the issues we face as we get older. When I was a teen-ager, I thought the age of 40 was a turning point – after 40 you were “old”. Well, when I turned 40, I felt very “young”. The word “forty” didn’t describe at all how I felt about myself.
Now that I am well into my fifties, I still don’t feel old, but as I see people my age retiring, it’s made me realize that we aren’t young anymore. Add to that the fact that I spend a part of most days in a nursing home visiting my mother and getting to know the other residents, and it’s easy to see why I think about aging these days.
There are a lot of jokes and funny greeting cards about getting older. A sense of humor can help see us through a lot of tough times in life, and I’m all for taking a light-hearted approach to aging, but I think middle and old-age are different now than they were a generation ago, even a couple of decades ago. Maybe it’s because we haven’t had to work as hard physically as our parent’s generation did, but I don’t think we think as much in an old way as they did.
Maybe we can provide a new kind of model for aging where we keep active and involved and growing. I know all generations have had people who have done that, but as we gain knowledge about health, exercise, nutrition, and the way our thoughts affect our body and our world, maybe this can be the generation that not only survives longer than our predecessors but one that thrives and flourishes, that continues to be actively involved in social causes, and that provides the wisdom to help guide the passion and energy of the younger generations.
I was talking to someone yesterday about how my mother was doing, and it made me realize that even at the age of 90 and in a nursing home, she still thinks young in some ways. She’s made many transitions in her life, and I’ve seen her bounce back many times. This move to the nursing home is no exception. After finding a medication to help her deal with the lingering pain of shingles, she has become involved again in life around her. She has made friends with staff and residents and started attending devotions and playing bingo and taking part in games like horseshoes and basketball from her wheelchair. She hasn’t been able to walk without assistance for the past couple months, but that hasn’t stopped her from lending a listening ear to those around her who need it or joking around with the young workers who help care for her. And she’s still solving the puzzles on Wheel of Fortune faster than I can!
I remember hearing Dr. Christiane Northrup talking about her mother, who was well into her eighties, preparing to climb a mountain. People would ask her how she could let her mother do such a thing. I don’t recall her exact answer, but it was something about how life should not have to end with suffering – if her mother died climbing a mountain, so what (not her words)? What better way to end our lives than living them fully, trying new things, flourishing?
Of course we have to take good enough care of ourselves to have the energy to try new things and continue being active. When we are younger we can perhaps be a little careless at times, but after a certain age, I think most food that goes into our mouths has to be high quality and provide the nutrients we need. We can’t waste calories on desserts and french fries because we don’t need as many calories as we did when we were younger and every calorie has to count.
We also need to keep moving. Find a way to do this that you really enjoy and keep it up! I may never climb a mountain, but I hope to continue walking, hiking, and biking for many, many more years.
I love to hear and read stories about people thriving in their eighties and nineties. It’s inspiring and encouraging, and even though there are still times when I wish time could go backwards or at least stand still, I intend to be aware of and grateful for all the people in my life and all the good that each day brings, and I plan to keep learning and growing and trying to make a difference in my world.