Shades of Gray

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A few weeks before we got married, I had a watershed moment with my soon-to-be-husband. I left the hair salon freshly trimmed and coiffed, and waltzed into my beloved’s kitchen. “Notice (flick) anything (flip) new (flick)?” I asked. The frenetic head-swaying gave him a clue that he was required to comment on some change, and after several moments of intent study he announced with some relief: “Oh! Look! You have a gray hair!” He looked genuinely confused when I receded into the bathroom, whimpering quietly. “Did I say something wrong?”, he called after me.

This, friends, was how I first discovered I was going gray.

Ten years later, my hirsute “salt and pepper” mix is becoming decidedly more “salty”. The question is, what to do about it? On the one hand, I have always loved the gentle softness of gray. My grandfather had a shock of arresting, white hair, and it was magnificent. Our faces soften with age, and I wonder if gray hair is not God’s way of softening the borders of our faces with these natural highlights.

For sure, gray hair is a sign of aging, and the Proverbs seem to welcome the maturity and honor which accompany the passing of years:

Gray hair is a crown of glory; it is gained in a righteous life. (Provers 16:31)

The glory of young men is their strength, but the splendor of old men is their gray hair. (Proverbs 20:29)

But therein lies the rub. What if I’m going gray but I’m not “old” yet? What if I still kind of have some of the strength of youth (my inability to stay up past midnight notwithstanding), but don’t yet have the splendor of the aged?

In his teaching about speaking honestly without needing to make “cross my heart and hope to die” kind of oaths, Jesus made this passing comment about hair:

And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. (Matthew 5:36)

Au contraire, my Lord. Thanks to Clairol, for several months at a time I can make it chestnut, or mahogany, or natural honey brown. But should I? Is it vanity to color my hair and deny the aging process? Would I be rejecting the “crown of glory” that God bestows? Then again, I wear mascara more faithfully than I floss my teeth, which itself is a daily denial of my true eyelash color.

On the other hand, once you climb onto the coloring bandwagon, it is hard to get off. Hair grows, which means that no matter how permanent the dye, within a few weeks I would have my grey roots showing again down the parting on my head: a “skunk stripe”, as my Mom would call it. Touching up roots is a a big commitment in both time and money, and frankly – I’m in the “lucky to take a shower every other day” phase of life.

Then, there’s the added conundrum that my hair is not only increasingly gray, but that the gray hairs have a life of their own. They are WIRY. Little silvery antenna, angled towards the heavens like the old pair of bunny ears atop our TV. I’m sure there’s a scientific explanation for why gray hair grows out much more feistily than my original color, but I don’t know what it is. This much I do know: I bet if Albert Einstein’s hair had been honey brown, it would not have looked like this:


I am a collector of ridiculous words, and one of my favorites is the word “quaquaversal”. Apparently it means “pointing in all directions”. ( I learned this on the same night as I learned the word “diapnosophy”, meaning “skilled in the art of making dinner conversation”.) At the time, I remember thinking that I could find ways to use diaponosophy in a sentence (“I would love to invite the apostle Luke for dinner, he’d be a great diapnosophist”), but thought quaquaversal would be spectacularly unuseful.

No longer, friends. For the record, my hair is graying AND quaquaversal. My kindly Mother sent me a top of the range hair-straightening flat iron to kerb the unruliness (“Have a Good Hair Day, my baby”), but for now there is no remedy for the gray. I’m busy and I’m thrifty and I’m generally too lazy to keep up the work of dyeing.

And as we already know, it’s not like my husband particularly cares about hair color.

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17 thoughts on “Shades of Gray”

  1. I’ve been going gray since high school; I remember a friend plucking out a few of my gray hairs during yearbook class!

    A while back, I read a book called “Going Gray”, a memoir by a woman who decided, after years of dyeing her hair, to (you guessed it) go gray. It’s quite entertaining! (I’ll also add that she looks younger in her gray-haired photos than in her dyed-hair ones. Counterintuitive.)

    1. Yay! A friend in the salt and pepper club! I used to pull out the wiry gray hairs too, but at some point my hubby pointed out that I would probably prefer a full head of gray hair than having no hair at all. I’ll look out for the book – it sounds good!

  2. Hahaha, I can just imagine the look of bewilderment on his face and the horror in yours! I’ve been thinking about this “to dye or not to dye” question lately too…and the thrifty me is definitely winning. 🙂

    1. I was a blonde kid who gradually turned to shades of “rich mouse” (one step classier than “mouse brown”) in high school. I highlighted my hair to retain the blonde for years, but finally gave up… I so don’t want to go through that again! Three cheers for thrifty you.

  3. I started dyeing my hair at age 15, and quit at age 30. The last time I dyed it was for my wedding. This is no joke: last week when Andy was in DC and I was solo parenting 3 kids (and I say 3 because C had lots of needs come up, and even when the child is 3000 miles away, the mama still has to meet those needs) the number of gray hairs in my head multiplied by about 100. I always thought the stress = gray thing was a joke, but nope. It sadly is not. Anyway, forget the dye. Go gray. Look smart. Enjoy it when people call you “ma’am.” (I love ma’am and sir, but wow is it weird to be a ma’am myself now!) And Jeremy is a riot.

  4. I loved having short short hair in grad school, because I could colour it according to mood, cherry-red one time, blue (but it didn’t really look blue), bleach-blond streaks. If I didn’t like a colour, I knew I could shave it off in a couple of weeks. I stopped colouring it before my wedding because I thought that I would like to have my natural colour to remember myself by. I’ve coloured a couple of times in the past couple of years, but for me it’s more an expression of fun than a desire to hide. I’m proud of my gray hairs, and happy to be middle-aged.

  5. I’ve been graying since high school too. I got much grayer while Jon was in med school… I used to color my hair every few months, but pregnancy has brought that ritual to a halt. The other day I was helping D put on his shoes and he pointed to my hair and said, “Mom, your hair is turning WHITE! Like Mother Gothel (from the Disney movie ‘Tangled’)!” Yes it is, baby:) I’m ok with my silver strands for now, but I still have my days where I’m conflicted about coloring it again after the baby is born. Does hair color make someone look more rested? Probably not…

  6. “Quaquaversal” A new word! Two actually, but since I seldom eat at the dining table, I don’t know that I’ll ever use the other one. Quaquaversal quite adequately describes my beard. Thank you.

  7. As a stylist I just always tell my clients it’s all about being the best version of yourself! We all are better mothers, lovers, daughters when we feel our best. So if that best is with the salt and pepper then cheers to you!

    Great post!

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  9. for what its worth, i think gray hair is WAY more beautiful than dyed hair. God is a really good artist and is really good at creating beauty (consider yosemite, or the trees turning spectacular colors right now). i feel so much of the time the “beauty industry” is selling a counterfeit that is far less beautiful than we would have been without their help. (of course i’m all for mascara and whatever else you like to do to feel lovely. but especially when it has teeth to it “I must expensively keep up the ritual of re-dying my hair every 4 weeks or else the world may learn the true color of my hair to my horror” wouldn’t it be better to be free from that? and aren’t there far weightier (and more beautiful) matters to give our thoughts, efforts and time to? )

  10. hey Bronwyn – i always say that I worked hard for that grey hair to show itself 🙂 Not that i have that many, but they are coming 🙂

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