I wouldn’t mind going gray if my gray had come in in a reasonable manner. My dad, God rest his soul, was a very distinguished salt and pepper by the age of 34 and I fully expected the same for myself. Instead, mine arrived in a single, round, bright spot on the back of my head. Even worse, I wasn’t the only one to have discovered it.
In my mid-30s, and with a handful of small children, I was happily minding my own business and enjoying an outing at the County Zoo with my family when a middle-aged man approached me from behind and tapped me meekly on the shoulder.
“Um … excuse me ma’am,” he said with trepidation. “But, um, a bird, uh, pooped on the back of your head.”
“Thank you for telling me,” I said dryly, as I felt the heat simmer up from my neck to the top of my “pooped-on” head. Then I simply walked away; he’s probably still wondering why I never bothered to clean it off.
I bought my first box of hair color on the way home from the zoo that day, and Lady Clairol and I have been great friends since.
Some years ago, our oldest son made one of his famous surprising and way-too-blunt comments. “Mom,” he said with exasperation. “I wish you’d stop coloring your hair. I want my real mom for once.”
It hit hard, but I have to admit that he had a good point. One can only cover something up for so long; eventually reality has to surface. That’s true of all the unpleasant or uncomfortable things in our lives that we try to hide. As with hair color, the more you try to hide it, the more it grows underneath, and the more difficult it is to stop covering it up.
Just look at politicians and celebrities. Not all of them, of course, but a good number of them go to great lengths for extravagant cover-ups that last years, even decades. When reality surfaces, and it hits the media, it sends a tidal wave of shock through society. That’s only because they’re public figures.
We all have our cover-ups, and they all affect society, just not as apparently. We all have our “spots” – our flaws, failures, fears and sins – that we don’t want others to see. So, we cover them up. The problem is, we can’t ever coat the roots because they’re below the surface.
As members of the Mystical Body of Christ, everything we do – seen or unseen – affects every member of that body. St. Paul explained this very clearly to the Romans.
“I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. For by the grace given to me I bid every one among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith which God has assigned him. For as in one body we have many members, and all the members do not have the same function, so we, through many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.” (Rom 12:1-5)
What we are and do – the decisions we make, the actions we take, and the way we live our lives – affects the lives of others, determines their misfortune and increases their happiness, both here and in eternity. We’re called to live a life that is truly good and acceptable and perfect, and our failure to strive toward the ideal has profound impact on the whole of humanity. There’s simply no way around it. Who we really are beneath the cover-up truly matters. We’re children of God, worthy of his love and mercy because he willed it so, and with a unique mission for our time.
I tell my family that, if I stripped the color off my hair, they’d be the ones to go gray. They’d be absolutely mortified by what they saw, and they’d be screaming to have their “real” mom back. Or not. I’m thinking more and more lately about my dependency on Lady Clairol and wondering what it would be like to walk around with a little “poop” on my head, figuratively speaking. It would take courage, but it’s who I really am – a child of God worthy of his love and mercy and with the unique mission for my time. One can only cover up for so long; eventually reality has to surface.
(Fenelon, a mother of four, and her husband, Mark, belong to St. Anthony Parish, Milwaukee. Visit her Web site.