Yesterday I discovered not one, but two silvery-white hairs on my head. That’s right, I’m going gray at twenty-seven.
And I couldn’t be happier about it!
Seeing those silver hairs reminded me of two things. First, it reminded me of my dad and my Grandma Rita, both of whom I love dearly and from whom I apparently inherited the early-gray gene. I’ve always admired my dad’s hair, which was salt-and-pepper throughout my childhood and has been pure white for years now. Once, when my stepmom was teaching an art class, he let the kids add rainbow colors to his hair with markers on the last day. He’s just that cool.
Second, I was reminded of the birthday song I learned while I was living in Greece. Translated, it means, “May you live many years, [name of birthday person]. May you get old, with white hair. May you spread the light of knowledge everywhere, and may everyone say, ‘What a wise person!'”
When I tell Americans about this song, they are often shocked that anyone would wish another person white hair. For their birthday, even. We see white hair as a sign of old age and all the negative associations that carries in a culture that worships youth: ugliness, undesirableness, loneliness, abandonment. But in traditional Greek culture, the elderly are treasured, and white-haired wisdom is seen as a quality worth wishing for.
Wisdom, of course, makes me think of the book of Proverbs. I love the first few chapters especially, where it talks about the quality of Wisdom personified as a woman (I always imagine her with beautiful silver hair). In Proverbs 8, Wisdom stands “at the highest point along the way, where the paths meet,” so she can call out words of truth to save those who are stumbling blindly toward destruction. In Proverbs 9 she is described as setting a generous table and calling all who need insight to come to her feast. Throughout the book of Proverbs, the woman Wisdom is shown as helping and serving others and sharing truth that gives life. Wisdom is described as “more precious than rubies,” a phrase that’s used to describe another good woman in Proverbs 31. She leads others in the way of peace, and she is a blessing to those who embrace her (Proverbs 3:17-18).
As a woman, I love having Wisdom for a role model. I love that the Bible shows her in this specific, female shape. Not because wisdom is the property of women – it’s something we all need to seek! – but because when I’m no longer twenty-seven, when my white hairs have overtaken me and culture tells me that I am ugly and undesirable and I need to buy a bunch of things to fix my appearance, I can read these words and know the truth. I can know that while my worldly beauty wanes, my spiritual beauty can increase if I follow Wisdom and look to her example. Rather than yearning for the gifts of youth, I can treasure the gift of wisdom, the ability to care for others and to speak words that give life.
“… gray hair is the splendor of the old…” Proverbs 20:29