I recently stopped by my supervisor's office to wish him a good night. As I talked, he gazed intently upon my head until he finally blurted, "Oh my God, is that a gray hair?"
And an extensive mesmerizing gray strand, it was. In fact, this particular histrionic gray sprouted so high that it seemed to be vying for everyone's attention.
Before I had a chance to finish my weak and overly wrought explanation about the gray hair signifying wisdom, my boss pulled out a pair of scissors and asked permission to chop off the gray. I let him -- despite my sermonizing in defense of the old -- and was made a bit younger, at least until the grays that audaciously sprout out of the crown of my head returned.
On another occasion, I tried to pull out each gray strand in my beard one at a time. It was painful, literally and figuratively. Pulling out one's hair strand by strand is a process that is not for the weak at heart -- or cuticle. It hurts.
To make it worse, I continued to pull but the gray strands, which seem to be tougher than the black strands that fall out with ease frequently, refused to loosen their attachment to my chin. I lost. Yet, I also was pained by the fact that I could not fully embrace my gray hairs and, therefore, my aging self. I was so resistant to looking like an "old man" that I was willing to subject myself to the stinging sensation of forceful hair removal to appear younger.
Over the past few years, I have really wanted to hack my gray hairs one by one, but they are unyielding. They refuse to be disappeared. Indeed, the most ambitious of the grays desire endless acknowledgment.
I have heartlessly pulled out one hair only to contend with the five daring strands that return with ferocity several weeks later in memory of the fallen. And I have finally resolved that I cannot win the fight against the relentless grays. Whenever I look in the mirror at my once fully-black beard, which is now salt-and-pepper, I throw up my hands and clippers in defeat.
Like powerful divinities, grays remind us of our impermanence. They are cues that we are getting "old," which is a descriptor used by the young to signal that which is no longer en vogue. In other words, pack your bags and prepare for transcendence. Certainly, I thought the same when I was young and gray-less. So, now when the young read my beard as a sign of my ascension into the realm of the ancient, I am reminded of my own attraction to youthfulness and fear of the inevitable, namely, aging.
At 36, I now contend with the reality that I cannot beat mortality's mark by using a simple hair colorant or clippers. It is a fight that I will not win even though I often feel pressured to defend against aging whenever I am reminded of its grip.
Both stories illuminate the tension that exists in my life. I am getting older and am learning to embrace that fact, but I am also aware of that which increasing age brings.
My skin is not as tight and smooth as it once was. I have bags under my eyes. I no longer feel current and hot in some night clubs. My once trim stomach that never required a gazillion crunches in order for others to see my abs is a now a grown man's gut. Birthday invitations now require a certain sense of humor when composing because they need to be convincing enough to encourage friends who've attended 15-20 parties in the past to show up, again, this time around. It is no longer awkward for me to purchase eye cream along with my vitamin enriched age-defying skin moisturizer. And the grays (like age), well, they will not be stopped. And that's the point.
Each of us, regardless of our numerical age, is aging daily. Whether we are 17, 37 or 77, we get older every day. We also move closer toward death. As unpleasant as it sounds, it is a truth that I am learning to embrace particularly within a western society that proliferates the fiction of perpetual youthfulness over the reality of our mortality. We aren't gods after all.
I have failed at ridding my beard of the gray whiskers. I officially raise the white flag of surrender.
I refuse to spend the rest of my days waging war against the inevitable. I am getting older daily, and I am also alive to enjoy the process.
I can now proclaim proudly: the grays win. And so do we all when we give up our fight to remain forever young and grayless.
For more by Darnell L. Moore, click here.
For more on aging, click here.
Start your workday the right way with the news that matters most. Learn more