“I love your hair!”, said the woman at the library on a bright spring morning.
A kind exchange over the check-out kiosk lead to some friendly banter and this compliment. Like the secret language between Jeep owners as they pass on the road, I’m learning that I’ve been welcomed into a sorority of sisters who are strong in sentiment and substance. We see each other in healthy envy, not judgement, of our value, reflected outward but often misinterpreted by outsiders.
My hair bookends my adolescence. At 13, my once straight hair took a turn and evolved into a mop of curls. The changes inside me that I tried to ignore, to deny, were spotlighted by my riotous ringlets. It mirrored my authentic self. Previously, churning silently inside, it was being released without restraint. Meeting expectations and avoiding anxiety, I learned quickly to fit into the established world, and in forcing myself to do so, spent countless resources taming my mane.
“I love your hair” used to mean that my monthly cut and color with a blow-dry straight style was en vogue and looking young. It meant that I should keep layering on the color, keeping up the charade, and acting as the reflection of what others expected me to be.
The end of my adolescence, some 25 years later, is the end of me kowtowing and pretending that I’m something that I’m not.
Today, when I walk around with my natural, crazy, curly, kinky hair, now well-seasoned with salt and pepper, each grey hair is a failure. Each white, luminous hair represents a complete and utter failure at living an authentic life. I spent so much of my time trying to be someone that I wasn’t. I did it in my marriage. I did it on stage and as an actress, so much so that I made a full-time career out of manipulating myself into what other people needed me to be.
Two years after my divorce, I got full custody of my kids. My world was flipped on its head and everything changed. It was the exact catalyst that I needed to complete what had been a period of growth and turn it into a period of peace.
I stare failure in the face every single morning. Every white hair that I see stands as a reminder of a risk taken and a lesson learned. Some days they look dirty. Some days, ugly. Some days they are a tangled, overwhelming mess unable to be tamed and all of them unable to be ignored.
The beauty lies in the fact that I can have my failures stare back at me, live with them, grow with them, embrace them and integrate them into every part of my life without hiding them or pretending they’re not there.
That is the greatest success.
I’m winning because I am still standing. None of my failures killed me, left me homeless nor alone. Not one of my failures was so severe to completely derail my life. Each risk I took led me to be a more compassionate, wise and worldly woman.
Here I am, now, being complimented but this woman didn’t compliment my hair. She said, “I love your failures.” “I love your imperfections.” “I love all that makes you, You.”
So bring it. Bring the day where I will have a shock of white hair for then I’ll know I had a life well-lived.