It is morning; late summer, before the daily throng of vehicles begins to pass my bedroom window but long past sunrise. I wash and dress then, looking into the mirror, take a brush to my hair. There you are! A glistening silver, peeping out from around my ears.
‘Hello’, it says. “‘I’m here! Let me out!’
Through social convention, more than vanity – although vanity is surely in the mix – I had coloured my hair since my mid-twenties when the first of the white appeared. It is the ‘done thing’ for women of my generation, particularly in my family. To accept the passing of years gracefully is looked upon with a curious suspicion, perhaps sympathy of sorts, but going grey is definitely not encouraged.
This is not the first time those stubborn, hard to colour, strands have spoken to me. But now I’m listening. I decide to release them from their bondage. No more hair dye.
And with the decision comes a joyous release of heart. A spiritual, “Phew! Finally!” and I find myself laughing, all alone, in the bathroom.
In the weeks and months that follow, my decision is met with many questions and disapproval from some. My husband and children are supportive. My mother is horrified.
“You’re too young to be grey,” she says
“ Evidently not!” is my defiant reply.
“ Well don’t expect me to stop tinting mine”
“ I don’t Mum,” I say more gently now, realising that she thinks I’m introducing some new social rule that I expect her to follow.
My hairdresser, reluctant at first, comes on board and makes a feature, in her salon, of helping women who want to ‘transition’ from colouring their hair to ‘embracing their natural blonde’. There are three ways to do it: the first is to have highlights (dyeing strands of hair a lighter colour so the grey comes in gradually). I decide against this – it’s still hair dye and I’m not convinced it will work.
The second is to cut out the dye and sport extremely short hair for a time. I’m not keen on this option, either – I remember the conversation with my mother and know she won’t like it. I don’t want to cause more controversy than I have to.
The third is simply to stop colouring it and let it fade and grow out so that with each haircut, there is simply less dark and more light. I am told it can take up to nine months to fully transition, if I take this route, and it will look ‘odd’ for a period of time. The significance of the nine months timeline is not lost on me. I choose this method for my ‘rebirth’
Before long, my appearance does indeed look odd – like the head of a badger or a skunk, dark at the sides and with a white stripe through the middle. But I am resolved and inch by slow inch I feel that I am being liberated from a pretence. I am facing my own humanity directly and it is joyous.
Around this time, I need to attend a meeting at the monastery. I am a little nervous about both the meeting and facing the monks with my weird hair. The meeting goes fine and afterwards, in a quiet moment, a most senior monk makes the remark “I like your hair”. I thank him but am surprised by the feeling of being caught out in some way. Quickly, this gives way to a quiet gratitude for the remark, which acknowledged the intention behind my actions.
True to the prediction, nine months later, after several haircuts, the transition is complete and I feel a renewed sense of peace with myself. Choosing to show the grey is not for everyone. We live in a world of judgement, where appearances matter. I don’t think that I could have made the decision whilst I was still working my very busy job. The pressure in the workplace, to be a certain way, would have prohibited this. As with most things, timing is everything. For me, I was not merely transitioning hair colour, I was transitioning, from a phase of life that was outward-looking, to a time of ‘coming home, of asking more deeply, “who am I?” And welcoming the privilege of old age.