Kathleen Irene Paterka
Writing with White Hair
Whatever your politics or religion, I think we can agree on one thing: all of us have been through a lot in the past twelve months.
Every one of us! The entire world! Back in the early days of 2020, little did we know that a pesky virus named COVID-19 was about to sneak its way into our collective consciousness by overpowering our immune systems. Within days, “normal life” was a thing of the past. Everything changed. Churches, schools, businesses, restaurants, theaters shut down. When my hairdresser locked her door, I stared in the mirror and realized that my auburn hair was about to show its true color. Was I ready for that?
“The only person who likes change is a baby with a wet diaper.” And though Mark Twain was right about the universal wish for things to remain the same, change can also be good. Circumstances often force our hand. Unforeseen circumstances such as COVID-19. Within days, the entire world went into lockdown.
Everyone has their story. Here’s mine: twelve months of semi-isolated existence alone in our house with my immune-compromised-cardiac-patient-husband forced dramatic changes. Because of his health situation, we were extremely careful; neurotically-so, some of my friends were quick to point out. But if I learned only one thing from the pandemic, it was to trust my instincts. I isolated, I wore a mask, I washed my hands, and I practiced social distancing (when I absolutely had to leave the house). Things that once had seemed so important became inconsequential. We did what we had to do, and we never got sick… well, sick of each other, maybe! Sick of arguing about what to watch next on Netflix, what to eat for dinner. But we didn’t get sick from the virus. We were lucky to come out of it safe, alive, healthy. Some of our friends were not so lucky. For them, I grieve.
Now, with my husband and I fully vaccinated, they tell us we can ‘semi-safely’ begin to resume some of what used to be our normal life. Yet how do we do that? I don’t know. It’s like a game of pick and choose. What’s safe? What’s not? Most days, I still feel like I’m in survival-mode. In public, I find myself hesitating. Groceries? Yes. Shopping sprees? No. Movie theaters? Probably never again. Crowded restaurants? Order take-out. Redeem our airline mileage credits and take that long-awaited trip to visit our family? Oh, how I long to! But not yet. Not yet. Patience.
COVID-19 forced us to take a good hard look in our mirrors and face the good, the bad, and the ugly about ourselves; the people who we are, and the way we live our lives. Stuck in self-induced quarantine, all those months of forced isolation, I stared at my reflection and watched my hair grow. The color faded, the white roots gradually took over. And I began to have a better understanding about myself. Like it or not, life is what it is. That’s when I reminded myself to count my blessings. Yes, I’m getting older, but so is everyone else. I woke up this morning, and I’m still alive. Today is a chance to take what I’ve been given, and do my best with it. So many people were robbed of the possibility of having a second chance.
My hairdresser finally unlocked her door. It had been months since I’d been inside. The salon looked different with all that plastic sheeting separating the different styling stations. I sat down in her chair and faced her in the mirror. Her eyes sparkled as she smiled (underneath her mask) and asked me the question I’d been expecting.
“Same color as last time?”
“No, thanks,” I said. “I’m done coloring my hair. From now on, I’m fine with being just the way I am.”
There’s freedom to be found in white hair. It might not be pretty, and it might not be what others choose for themselves. But it’s what I choose for me. I’m 65 years old, and I’m embracing my age and my true hair color. And it feels good! There’s something about being an older woman with a crown of white hair. It feels as if I’ve finally given myself permission to be authentic, to say and do (and write!) what I really feel. Some people see a woman with hair like mine and automatically think “she’s just another old lady”. But that’s okay. I know who I am, and for today I’m happy with myself. No muss, no fuss.
And no more coloring my hair. Boy, am I going to save myself a lot of money!