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We try to tackle the big topics on this humble little blog: life, death, spirituality, peace, love, justice, mercy. So, in comparison, my topic today seems ludicrously flimsy and terribly vain: I am going to write about my recent decision to let my hair go gray, as it has been wanting to do, lo these many years.

I started going gray — white, really, if I’m honest — in my thirties. I’ve been dying my locks ever since. I consider being brunette part of my identity. I could never wear colored contacts, for instance. My brown eyes are also part and parcel of who I am. A good deal of this identity is wrapped up in pop culture: Brunettes are serious. They’re smart. My earliest role models were Mary Tyler Moore, Marlo Thomas on “That Girl” and Catwoman — all brunettes, all “making it after all,” on their own terms. That was my tribe!

So why change now? Why not go to my grave with my roots intact? Well, for one, my husband recently encouraged me to go natural. And if he doesn’t care, why should I care what the rest of the world thinks? Secondly, it’s a drain of time and money to continue to color my hair, and the chemicals involved are not as healthful and innocuous as one might think while watching a Clairol commercial. Third, why lie, even to myself, about what I look like? I like to think I embrace truth-telling. My white hair is a truth about myself.

But here’s the big one: I truly believe the purpose of life is in embracing the little “yesses.” After all, at the end of our lives, there is going to be a huge “yes” that we will have to embrace, like it or not. By accepting and welcoming each little “yes,” I prepare myself daily for the big “yes.”

And this is, despite being firmly entrenched in female vanity, a tough yes. I look at other women who are letting their hair go natural and I judge. It looks slovenly. Like a lack of self-care. And yes, I know that’s a horrible thing to think. I’m appalled at myself. But there it is. And this is what I will have to see in myself as my “skunk stripe” covers the crown of my head and extends, inexorably, downward. I will have to confront the worst in myself. I will have to deal with my own feelings about aging and about how women are judged and valued on their beauty and youth. I will have to see myself lacking.

And I will have to find God in all of this. I will have to grapple with a God who loves everything about me, but who created humans to love what is aesthetically pleasing. I will have to align myself with a God who expects my power to come from something bigger than a bottle of dye. I will have to say “yes,” not just once, but over and over again, every time my fingers itch to solve the problem with a box from the drugstore.

I am hoping all of this will be good for my soul. Because that’s the part of me I care about most. And it doesn’t need anything artificial in order to be beautiful, does it?

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Next Saturday, we celebrate the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, a holy day of observation. I’ve written about this day before, emphasizing that — despite its common use in pop culture — the day has nothing to do with Christ’s conception, but His mother Mary’s. She was conceived without sin, lacking the stain of Adam and Eve, pure.

We know Mary primarily as a woman of “yes.” It’s what she’s known for: Saying yes to bringing the Son of God into the world. We read about her from time to time in the New Testament, mostly in the early parts of the story, Jesus’ birth and formative years. She appears again at the foot of the cross. She is present after the Resurrection. Most of the time, she doesn’t speak. She chides her son only twice, once for running away, once to goad Him into action. The most telling line about her speaks to her introspection: “Mary kept all these words, pondering them in her heart.” (Luke 2:19)

It’s not a very complete picture. There’s quite a bit of information missing. This makes it difficult to know Mary better, something that women, especially, aspire to do, as she is one of the few role models we have in the Church. What I like about Mary is that she has the best qualities of any heroine: She is assertive and accepting. She says yes to God — a bold expression of unfathomable faith — and accepts that the road ahead will be difficult. Because how could it not be? She had to know, or at least to guess, that life for her beloved son would not be easy. She had to see the end coming.

I also like the use of the word “grace” when it comes to Mary. We speak of this grace in the “Hail Mary,” taken from Elizabeth’s greeting to her cousin in Luke Chapter 1. Grace can mean “elegance” or “beauty.” It can also mean “kindness” or “mercy.” I prefer to think of Mary as having the kind of grace referred to in the phrase “grace under pressure.” Her road was no walk in the park, either. Imagine explaining your pregnancy to your parents, to your fiancé. Imagine watching your child die a painful and ignominious death. These things require grace, along with a spine of steel and a faith that can not only move mountains, but make them dance. I long for this kind of grace.

Advent is a good time to think about Mary, to ponder her strength and sacrifice. God, capable of anything, instead of sending down His son fully formed, like Athena from the head of Zeus, decides to go the old-fashioned route, the humble route: His son comes as a baby, just like the rest of us. He is born of woman. And what a woman she must have been! I can only aspire to be like her, to ask her to shower a little of her grace on me. So that whatever God asks of me, I can answer as Mary did — yes. Always yes.

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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