Maybe I’m not the only one.
Maybe it is a rite of passage for the modern American woman, the moment when, after a frantically busy month or two–after scheduling and canceling and rescheduling and canceling that blasted hair color appointment yet again–she combs her hair. Perhaps I’m not alone in freezing in bewilderment before the mirror.
I tweeze one of the offenders, hold it up in front of the vanity and stare, puzzled. Before I pulled it from my crown, it sat surrounded by comrades, the whole regiment concealed by my side part. I had no idea they were there.
Upon inspection, this silvery-white strand glistens like a diamond in the bathroom light. I’m not sure how long I stand there. I guess I didn’t expect it to sparkle so much.
I’ve spent my whole life faking maturity, waiting for the real thing to arrive so that I might finally be taken seriously. A feminist to my core, I bristle at society’s glorification of feminine youth as beauty. My idols have all been strong women, older than me. My mother. Professors. Hillary Clinton. Maya Angelou. My mother-in-law. They are the most beautiful women I can imagine. It’s not that I’m afraid of aging. It’s just that suddenly things seem to be happening very fast, and all I can do is stare.
Having noticed my lengthy absence, my husband appears in the mirror behind me. I drop the hair on the counter, embarrassed, and I am confused when tears prick up in the my eyes.
I start to babble. “It’s like when you’re riding a bike,” I explain, “and you’re going down a hill, and you’re picking up speed, and you realize from out of nowhere that you’re going a little faster that you’re comfortable with. And it’s not that you want to stop—you want to keep going. But you ride the brakes, just a little.”
He nods, although I suspect that he is considering the question of my sanity. “There aren’t any brakes, though,” I continue. “You can’t slow it down, and you can’t even go back to where you came from, and it’s all so damned beautiful that it’s a damned shame you have to ride by so fast.” Now, I’m fighting back big, real tears, but my husband understands.
He thinks for a long, quiet moment, and then says, “All you can do is lift your head so you can see what you’re riding through, I guess.” And he’s right, but nothing he can say will solve the problem of the silvery hairs. Nothing he can do will guarantee that I will someday leave this world satisfied that I’ve seen enough.
I think of visiting Holland, of beautiful Dutch women riding bicycles over cobblestone streets, of the way I noticed their long, perfect tresses flowing gracefully along with them. Suddenly I want desperately to ride my bicycle through the miles of tulip fields at Keukenhof.
I want to get on my bike and ride back to Paris. I want ride around the city like I did before, only this time, I want to be brave about it. I want to go back to Buenos Aires and cruise carelessly down Avenida 9 de Julio, absorbing the cacophony of the horns and motors around me. I want to coast leisurely across the Sydney Harbor Bridge, to sketch the shape of the city onto my brain, wave to the commuter trains as they race to the other side. I want to ride under the oceans, say hello to the sea turtle who attended our nuptials in Maui and to the Manta Rays who danced by us at the Great Barrier Reef. I want to ride right back to the days when I pulled the Burly behind my bike, and then the Tagalong; and then to the days when I didn’t need to pull my little girls anymore, but rode beside them ever-so-slowly as they inched along with their training wheels.
I want to do it all again, over and over, until I understand.
And when I finally have had enough time to really see the places I’ve been, I want to put that silvery hair back on my head, where it belongs, and move on to whatever comes next.