Oh no my hair is going white. Yes, actually white! There are some little known advantages of having been a redheaded child. Once you choose to forget the constant claims that you have a bad temper (I don’t) and you suit green (I don’t). Apparently – and this is backed by research (not sure why they did this) – but us redheads feel less pain (true), have better immune systems (don’t intend to test this one in the current climate) and we lose our hair colour later in life and when it goes it goes snowy white (both true I’m now finding).
I’m guessing many of you out there are, like me, being re-acquainted by our midlife natural hair colour. And it’s proving a bit of a surprise, but maybe not as bad as we had once thought.
Ok I admit to a flicker of terror when the white first emerged. But then I caught a glimpse in a window, in the sunlight, and thought actually I can see a little Hollywood glamour there. Few days in I suddenly felt incredibly empowered – I can do this. I can go white and still be me and maybe even a better more authentic version of me. It felt not just ok, it felt good.
I’ve got this thing about the media narrative on age. The talk of demise, the horrors of menopause, decay, endings, empty nests, anti-ageing, turning back time … how boring and what nonsense. Sure things change and I do know some people have a horrible time with hormones. But for heavens sake there is so so much more to the un-chartered territory of age in this time – isn’t it all way more interesting than that?
With my history, believe me, I find it an absolute privilege to have reached the age of 56 and still feel (for now) in pretty good nick. I remember once shaving a couple of years off of my age for some fashion feature – yuck it just felt so horrible. It was as if I was lying to my own body and soul. The worst thing about not embracing one’s real age is the damage it does to our own authenticity and our own self esteem – it’s letting the shame message seep in and this is very bad for our mental health.
I’m so bored with sayings like “50 is the new 40″. It isn’t. Us humans last for a certain number of years and whilst this might be increasing, it’s not by much. I love that slogan “50 is the new 50” and really is there anything more sexy than that sassy confidence that comes with owning it and not giving a damn.
I’m not sure that there’s been a better time to celebrate just being alive, well and emotionally healthy. One of my life’s achievements is surviving. Trauma changed me completely. It made me: a better person, a nicer person and it gave me the ability to lead a better more joyful life. As they say “there’s a rainbow in every cloud” – but only if you want there to be.
Don’t we need a whole new truthful conversation about what it means to be the age that we are in. Speaking personally I want to know about the joy of being alive, embracing our lucky lives, being confident in our skin, passing down wisdom, falling in love again at any age, watching our families grow or loving our friends a little more each year as we know that this life thing is pretty unpredictable.
I look at the lines around my eyes and I can see pain, magic and love etched in each one. I have them because I’ve lived quite a few years and done quite a few things in that time – that makes me proud, not ashamed. I look at the tubbiness around my, once washboard, tummy and I feel so blessed that I was able to have two children. I look at my white hair – natural highlights that will save me a fortune – and think ah another mark of time moving on. I think of Helen Mirren, Honour Blackman (RIP), Emmylou Harris, Jamie Lee Curtis and how beautiful they all look. It’s all ok.
And then I think of that Kissinger quote and feel so passionately that the real loveliness of any human being so often comes out after really testing times. There’s such a dignity in resilience and survival and it’s all so interesting. Who knows what the challenge of these times will leave behind in our own bodies and souls.
I was enthralled by a beautiful article in this week’s Sunday Times by the palliative care doctor and author Rachel Clarke (I do think people who care for others at the end of life have so much to say about living one’s best life.) Titled “Finding light in the darkness” she points out that facing up to our own mortality is something many of us have never had to do until now. I was so delighted to hear her add, what I have believed for so long, that “when we do life becomes imbued with such joy”.
As I’ve said before I’ve spent many years researching, writing and thinking about death. At first it was forced upon me, but the more I looked and refused to turn away, the more interesting it all became. I can honestly say that it is this work, above anything else, that has given me the sheer grit and determination to never sweat the small stuff, forgive quickly, not enter anybody else’s drama and love as much and as often as I can.
It’s a great lesson. But I do know it can be too brutal an idea for many, especially in the current climate. So I will pipe down with my almost evangelical beliefs around daily meditations on death. Instead, if you don’t already, may I recommend meditating on the more gentle idea that time is short for all of us and we are all just passing through – as only then will the doors of your mind swing open and your real path – untarnished by external stuff – will make itself known. Peace and happiness are an inside job and we now all have the time to do the required internal work. How exciting is that.
And finally I leave you with thoughts of my two of my new loves – a 6pm gin and tonic (just one) and the English Poet Ted Hughes. I’ve always wanted to immerse myself in his work – and now in lockdown I’ve been able to do just that. I absolutely love what he says about living and I hope you enjoy it too:
“The only calibration that counts is how much heart people invest, how much they ignore their fears of being hurt or caught out or humiliated. And the only thing that people regret is that they didn’t live boldly enough, that they didn’t invest enough heart, didn’t love enough. Nothing else really counts at all.”
Happy, peaceful Easter to you all.