I vividly remember the discovery of my first gray hair.  It was at a volleyball tournament, and no, I wasn’t coaching and the gray didn’t come from working with teenagers as you would expect.  I was a player.  15 years old.  A teammate was braiding my hair for a match and told me (and my other teammates) the news; it quickly became the major headline of the day.

Somehow that attention didn’t bother me, which would shock you if you knew me then, the me with the countenance of a poorly-tied shoelace and a knack for self-deprecation.  I hated being tall, having a big nose, and somehow, at six feet and 140 lb, thought I was fat.  But, the gray hair, I liked.  It hid in the back of my head and made me feel distinguished, safely removed from the adolescent zoo.  I babied my gray hairs and admired them for years.  I laughed with my hairstylist about the little surprises she found under my then-massive brown tresses.  A few years ago I decided I would not dye them away until I was at least 30, to make the most of having gray hair before I was “old”.

Unbeknownst to me, however, my head is extremely fertile soil for gray hair.  So that now, at 28, I am 75% gray.  And it does not look distinguished. This is no Monsters v. Aliens giant white-haired super hero look.  No, more like having a dirty dish towel on my head.  The hairs are fragile and unruly.  Every time I look in the mirror I’m surprised and distracted by it.  Can I handle 18 more months of this?  My pride pleads with me to leave it alone while my vanity screams, “Dye it!  Highlight it!  No one will know!”

My gray expectations (sorry, so bad, I know…) intertwined with my more broad expectations about the future.  In my teens and early twenties, heck, even in elementary school, I longed for a glimpse into later years.  I wanted to know how I would turn out, I idealized life as an adult, with no one telling you what to do and when to do it.  It could not come soon enough.

The sub-conscious invincibility I felt as an adolescent only made itself known as it faded, replaced by uncertainty through stark encounters with the dangers of the wide world and the heavy weight of decision-making.  I think back on that gray-hair admirer from 15 years ago and wonder how she would feel if she could glimpse forward.  If she could see the startling development of her hair and the life that surrounds it.  Would she approve?  Have I disappointed her?  I tend to want her satisfied, to be able to sit down with her and see the awe in her face at the marvelous stories to come down the road.

A friend of mine from college who is an artist and art teacher recently wrote about a dream she had where she encountered her 5 year-old self.  In the dream she sat down with her little self and gave herself an art book and crayons.  I love this perspective on who she is now.  It’s not up to us to satisfy the hope and dreams of the child we were.  If I could go back and talk with myself, I would instruct me to work hard, to give my later self a head start pursuing a future in the things I love and to stop waiting for the future to come to me.  To stop trying to feel removed  and safe and start being vulnerable and investing.  To give each gray hair a story, and not just a time-line.  And in case the me from 15 years from now would come back and tell me the same thing, I plan to get busy.  In Nashville, for now.  With very gray hair at the moment.

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