Purple hair

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Perhaps it was inspiration from Jenny Joseph’s poem “Warning”: “When I am an old woman, I shall wear purple.” When I first heard it decades ago, I didn’t imagine it would apply to me at any stage of my life. Interestingly, Joseph wrote the poem when she was just 29 years old.

Recently, though, I’ve been drawn to bright colours. My bathroom now shimmers in vivid turquoise, and an out-of-character boldly striped jacket hangs in my closet and sometimes on me!

Is this related to aging? Do I yearn for colour as I become older? My cheeky son has an explanation. “Your eyes are the first to go,” he’ll tease. (Or it could be, your taste buds, or your mind, or your reflexes, depending on the subject under discussion.)

Whatever the impetus, I am now sporting a swatch of purple-blue hair, nestled in rather comfortably with the gray. And boy, has it been fun. Especially with complete strangers.

While walking on Portage Avenue in downtown Winnipeg, I glimpsed a loud and lively gaggle of teenagers crossing the street just behind me. One of them called out, “Hey, I love your hair! It’s so cool to have blue in it.” Surprised and tickled, I turned around, smiled and said, “Thanks!” An unexpected pleasure.

While with my mother in Pennsylvania at our favourite ice-cream stand, I noticed a woman with a purple swatch in her hair as she got out of the car beside us. When she saw me, she laughed and started a conversation. She was visiting for a high- school reunion, she told me, and her hair—“maroon [not purple] and white”—matched her high school colours. We shared a moment of mutual delight.

And then there was the sweet young man, also in my mother’s small town, who received the used goods I dropped off at the thrift store. “Oh, I love your hair,” he enthused. “My boyfriend would be so proud of you.” I drove away, grinning.

Yes, there have been a few puzzled looks and raised eyebrows from some of the more conservative members of my community. My husband? Well, he’s not a fan. And customs officials don’t allow themselves a reaction. It’s probably in their manual: Never ever comment on a woman’s hair.  

Mostly I’ve been savouring the giggles. My own when I do look in the mirror, and those that come from the people around me—strangers, friends, family members, church people, young, old and middle-aged—who light up at the joke of the subdued gray hair with its surprising streak of purple.

My grandnieces told me they “Kool-Aided” their hair. “What?” I asked, wondering when Kool-Aid became a verb. They explained, noting how “Kool” it was in Katy’s hair, which is blonde, and how useless it was in Kylee’s dark mop.

Who would have thought so much fun could come from just a little bit of silly hair? Where do we take risks, act ridiculous or shake up our perceptions, both the ones we hold of others and the ones we hold of ourselves? Don’t such things have the possibility of lightening our hearts, and isn’t that a part of good health? Is it too much of a stretch to invoke the prescription of Proverbs 17:22:  “A cheerful heart is a good medicine, but a downcast spirit dries up the bones.”

We’re a few weeks away from Halloween, a time of much playfulness with changed appearances. Might we steer away from the macabre, death-ridiculing aspects of the season and towards the goofy jokes and good spirits? Cultivating a cheerful heart is good medicine, wisdom from a godly source.

Melissa Miller (familyties@mymts.net) lives in Winnipeg. She is wrapped in the family ties of daughter, sister, wife, mother, friend and pastor.

--Posted Sept. 24, 2014

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