Life and Faith

Knowing What I Looked Like

Imagine you’re dead. You’re floating up through the clouds, heading for the pearly gates, and you turn for one last look at this green-and-blue planet and whatever you did with your time here.

What’s going to be on your mind?

If you’re reading this, you can’t give me a factual answer to that question. So guess.

People will be on your mind, right? You might feel love, or grief. Or surprise [“Wait, I’m dead? Like, dead dead?”]. All kinds of stuff will swish through you, stuff you carried around in your head and your heart.

Outside the pearly gates, it’s easy to make a long list of things we wish had gone another way. Some of those things were outside our control. Really. We can let those go. What I’m interested in are the things that weren’t outside our control.

I’m that annoying person who’s always saying, “Life is in the details.” It sounds like a greeting card, or maybe a contagious rash. Put calamine lotion on that sucker. Maybe it will stop itching and let you relax.

But life IS in the details! Little things belong to us and create our days. They bother us later, in the middle of the night, or give us lasting satisfaction when we need a break from doubting ourselves. “I was a bad mommy today, but at least I sewed Pooh Bear’s nose back on.” [Actually, my relationship with Pooh Bear’s nose began decades before I gave birth. It was a home-made Pooh Bear with an amazingly globular button nose. We chewed on it. It felt off. ]

When I look at myself in the mirror, I see a lot of details. Don’t we all? I see my eyes and nose, and the laughter lines in my cheeks that can almost pass for dimples. I see my long legs. And you know what else I see?

Gray hair.

Oooooo. [Shudder.]

Say it again.


It’s not all gray yet, but some of it is.


It’s so scary to say that word, isn’t it?


Oh my — girl, are you doing to dye it? You should have started already! You could do highlights or something, so it looks gradual. You do darker colors when you’re younger and gradually get lighter as you age. I can tell you where I get mine done. They’re really good. Seriously. You have to cover that!


Actually, no.

I’m not going to dye my hair. I’m going to let it go gray, and I’m going to walk around where people can see me and my gray hair. Just like that. Just like a person whose hair changed color gradually as she got older. You know. Like everyone else in our species.

Why are we afraid of gray hair?

I had this whole theory a few years ago. It was deep and psychological, and it was connected to all this other stuff like diet crazes and health fads and the cosmetics industry.

It’s fear of death. That was my theory. We do all that stuff (and dye our hair) because we’re afraid of dying, so we want to believe that the power to avoid death is in our grasp. If you just eat vegetables and meditate and dye your hair and wear chunky expensive shoes, you’ll be young forever. Immortal.

I tried this theory out on some girlfriends. Here’s what they said: “Fear of death?!? It’s not fear of death! It’s fear of UGLY!”

Oh. So, there’s that.

You could probably make a case for my gray hair being ugly. Or at least quirky. Gray hair grows sideways, or upwards at a 45-degree angle. Half of it is curly, but only half, and don’t be thinking it curled in any organized way. Every third or fourth hair is curly, except on the lower left underside, where there’s a substantial contingent waving all together.

Is there a product for this? Browse that aisle in the store, the one with helpful words like “straight,” “curly,” “volume,” and “can’t make up its mind”….oh, wait, no, I made that up. There is NOT a product for this. Products for curly hair make the straight part go flat. Products for straight hair make the curly part go wild.

But I still don’t want to dye my hair.

I have pictures of my whole life: baby, leggy, graduating, working, marrying, traveling, birth-giving, book-writing, child-rearing me, and in all those pictures, I knew what I looked like. No dye or surgical alteration. No hiding. I was growing and changing in all the lenses that reflected me. I knew where I lived in the universe, inside this body at this moment of this life.

I want to know my own truth, even in its freckles and wrinkles and scars. I want to explore now just as much as I wanted to explore those younger worlds. I can’t find my life in this body if I’m covering it up.

I may be kicking myself on my way up through the clouds. I know I’ve said words I wish I could unsay. I know I’ve missed opportunities for laughter or courage at moments in my life. But at least I will know that I experienced one part of my reality fully.

At least I will know what I looked like.

Melinda Johnson

Melinda Johnson

Melinda Johnson is an Orthodox Christian, wife, mama, and writer. She is the author of Letters to Saint Lydia (AFP, 2010) and is hard at work on another book. Melinda has a Master’s in English Literature because she loved taking literature classes so much she couldn’t stop doing it. Although she can no longer remember all the great books she studied, Melinda treasures the way these books taught her to look at the world. When she is not seeing “heaven in a wildflower,” Melinda enjoys writing for children, walking and talking, and knitting. She lives with her family in the Pacific Northwest.

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