"Now, Aretha may grow up to be a lovely woman. She may bloom in the glow of her first love. She may blossom with the birth of her children and wear her later years with full confidence in her glory, but I'll tell you this: she will never be more beautiful than she was when I picked up that mirror an held it for her. She gasped. Joyce applauded.
"Is it okay?" I said.
Aretha never took her eyes from the mirror.
"It looks like me," she said softly.
"It is you," Joyce said, but I knew what Aretha meant.
Sometimes you meet yourself on the road before you have a chance to learn the appropriate greeting. Faced with your own possibilities, the hard part is knowing a speech in not required. All you have to say is yes."
(From "What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day" by Pearl Cleage)
I turned 40 today, and I wanted a haircut. I wanted to shed my old head, and find the soft cap of new birthed curls that lay beneath the old ideas and false images needing to be shorn. I wanted freedom on my head.
I went to Walmart. I'd let Eric know that I was coming, and he received me, fussed over me, and loved on this middle-aged woman.
"What do you want, birthday girl?" he asked.
"Cut it off, as much as you can, and give me a fierce lining."
He took my face in his gentle brown hands. "You have the face for that. Not every woman can wear her hair like that. "
I hoped he was right.
I sat there, listening to his quiet voice, listening to the schwip, schwip of the scissors, and watching my hair fall in wooly mounds into my lap, and to the floor. It is grayer all over than I realized. I closed my eyes, and I let the years that were gone fall and tumble away from me like my hair. This haircut, like morning, was a brand new mercy, the precursor to the rest of my life.
He handed me a mirror. "Take it down more," I say.
He continued, and the motions of his hands became my meditation. Soon I would see myself in the mirror again, and there would be little hair to distract me. I'd meet myself on the road, like Cleage's Aretha, and like her, see the face of my own possibilities.
Eric finished, and handed the mirror back to me. I just smiled.
It looked like me.
Lovely and graying, with deep smile lines, and tiny lines around my eyes. But the best part is that finally, I'm old enough to know the appropriate greeting. I'd tell you, but some things a woman has to keep for herself.
I got up from his chair, and he asked me if I wanted something to carry my hair in.
"I won't be taking it with me," I replied. And I got up, lighter for the journey, free from within, and with the good grace of God in each and every step, even the times that I stumble. Especially those.
When I stepped outside in the sun, I noticed it was as hot at that moment, as it was cool earlier that morning. Isn't that just like September 1st? It's too cool to be real summer, and too hot to be real Autumn. Isn't that just like turning 40. I look at the trees. This year my birthday reminds me of leaves.
I am a leaf, about to be ablaze with color, trembling to hold on to the strength of strong, brown branches.
I am a leaf, just being my beautiful self, awaiting the wind to carry me, in a whisper of God to the ground.
and later, rustling under the bodies of rolling, laughing children,
then crunching under lovers feet,
keeping my face lifted for my next change of seasons, waiting
for the white comfort of being shrouded in snow.
In love and grace,