One Gray Hair: a lesson in aging with wisdom

 

I found a gray hair on my head one morning recently.

I smiled at myself in the mirror and nearly ran into the other room to show my husband.

It’s not that I’m longing to get older quicker; but I am longing for more wisdom, for more journey.

 

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That morning I attended a day-long speaking event by Barbara Brown Taylor in my city, and was sure that I’d be stepping into sacred space as I drove my tiny white Kia across Atlanta, listening to a Powwow Song Pandora station along the way.

I was a bit surprised that I was one of the youngest people attending the conference. I found a table and sat down with a group of strangers, women older than I, kind and willing to listen.

I was unaware that they’d be speaking over me, calling me into my own gifts, my own way, leading me the way an ancestor does, the way an elder should.

We’re to listen to our elders, we’re taught in indigenous culture.

We’re to take their stories and wisdom and let them lead us in life. But so much of modern American culture fights against that, says that the older you get the less difference you can make in the world. But I sat in that room, at that table, with those women, and they simply held space for me. It was like I was watching their legacies trailing behind them, a beautiful train attached to their bodies that told their stories as they journey from one day to the next, that keeps record of the ways in which they have learned and re-learned what it means to be human.

I told them I had a book coming out soon and that I’d brought a copy to give to Barbara. They passed it around the table, writing down my name so they could buy it when it comes out. One woman looked through some of the pages, back up at me, right in my eyes, and said, “I think this is going to be more popular than you think it is. Do you feel that?”

I can’t explain to you what happens inside of me in those moments. It’s cocoon-like, a sense that I need to listen and perceive and remember those instances clearly for what they are. And in that moment, I was sitting beside my elder and she was reminding me of who I was, ushering me deeper into my own calling as she told me about her years as a converted Jew and her personal spiritual journeys.

There are a lot of divides that come with generations, but our underlying humanity–our joys and laughters, our gifts and callings, our need for community–they hold the whole world together, no matter what separates.

I left that day-long conference grateful for the spaces in which I was asked to share my story, to speak about how my indigenous identity and my Christian identity are one in the same, and that I’m trying to reconcile the rest of the church to that reality. I tried to sit still and listen for their stories and experiences, and while I received, they were few and far between. It seems this particular experience was to remind me that my ancestors, and the elders I surround myself with, are my leaders today and tomorrow. They walk with me on this path, even if it’s for one afternoon in an episcopal church.

And when I see gray hair, I think of my grandma, who had silver hair that she kept pulled up in a tight bun. Every now and then you could catch it down, trailing her shoulders, her back, long strands of what I imagined years of wisdom that made her the woman she was to me and my family. In our human experience, even in its pain, even in its misery, even in its divine transformation, we find hope along the way, as we age, as we grow, as we choose whether or not we want humility and grace to guide us.

I have hopes for my book, Glory Happening: Finding the Divine in Everyday Places, that comes out on November 7th, this book that I’m literally birthing into the world, pieces of me sent to other peoples’ living rooms, my words on their bookshelves and my heart reaching out from the ink and page to ask another heart to respond. It is a rush of so many feelings, and I am simply overcome with gratitude.

And yet, I have so much hope beyond that.

I hope, too, that when my one gray hair turns to one hundred on my head,

I look in the mirror, glad.

I hope that when my skin begins to wrinkle,

I see memory after memory make themselves known on my hands, my face.

I hope that my ever-brittling bones tell me

that transformation is both painful and beautiful.

I hope that my eyes, what they have seen and known,

will never grow weary of looking another in their eyes.

And I hope that one day, when I am the elder in the room,

I have something to give that is humble and gentle,

full of the glory of a God that stretches across generations and millennia,

who knew my own ancestors then and knows me now,

who will know my grandchildren one day.

I hope that all my hoping is bound up in this one voice

that stretches and molds and transforms over time,

a voice that began in creation, in mystery, a voice

that calls out to the deep for more of that benevolent love

that was always there and will always be here,

teaching us as we age that our stories matter,

and that they are never wasted or forgotten.

 

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace… Romans 15:13

Indeed, the very hairs on your head are numbered. Luke 12:7

 

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