This morning I woke up and stumbled to the bathroom mirror, groggy from a lack of sleep. It’s never a good idea to look at yourself at 5 a.m. under harsh lights, especially if you spent the last seven hours watching the digital minutes tick by. But I did look, and oh my goodness … who was that old lady looking back at me? She had fatigue etched into the crinkles around her eyes and hair more gray than black. 

I open the cabinet underneath the sink and take out the box of black hair color I’ve had for weeks now and ask that well-worn question: To Dye or Not to Dye?

Maybe it’s time to surrender to the gray, just let it do its thing and say goodbye to being a brunette? But I’m too exhausted even to answer that question, so I return the box to the cabinet, pull on my fuzzy bathrobe and go back to bed. “I’ll just watch the news for a minute,” I tell myself. “That will make me feel better.”

In the dark of the room, I shake my head at my own naivete. When has the news ever made me feel better?

The talking heads are busy this morning. It seems while I lay in bed watching the ceiling, the world was watching Russia invade Ukraine. We knew this was coming, but the images are still a shock to the senses. Violence has a way of doing that — stunning you, no matter how prepared you are to face it.

A video replayed from last night that showed a news reporter standing in front of a cathedral in the capital city of Kyiv. The reporter was an older gentleman, bundled up against the cold, and wearing a helmet. His hands were shaking as he held the microphone, and he looked to his right every few seconds. You could feel his fear. Explosions echoed in the distance. While he talked, the cathedral’s lights went out, and the city was draped in a blanket of gray.

It was just before dawn in that part of the world, but the sun was not expected to show up for the day. The forecast for Ukraine was cloudy … sunless … gray … as if the weather knew what the day held in store and planned to withhold the sunlight until humans finished their ugly business.

War. Again.

It appears to be the nature of humans to be forever in conflict with each other, forever at war over who has more or who owns what. The love of money and of power leads to this …every single time. And the rest of us, down through the ages, worry and struggle and hope that the good will survive and that innocent ones will not be lost.

It is those of us leading normal, everyday lives who will pay higher prices and face empty shelves at stores and wonder how to stretch the money we work so hard to bring home. It is the masses who will watch death play out on our televisions and then work even harder and longer to buy milk and bread and gas and medicine. We’ll count ourselves lucky to be safe in our homes but frustrated and exhausted because the middle-class dollar will undoubtedly be stretched and pulled beyond its limits.

My alarm goes off, and I roll over to silence the noise. And then I see it — through the blinds and into the back yard, on the other side of the chain-link fence, in one of the daylily beds we built ourselves — a burst of red. Within a minute, I am unlocking the gate and stepping into our daylily garden. And there it is — our Shakespeare’s Red — with its bloom of crimson so deep it almost glows in the gray morning.

“Well, hi,” I whisper, bending down to touch the petals. It’s wet with dew and warm, as if it soaked up last summer’s sun and kept it buried with itself underneath the soil all this time.

If you know anything about daylilies, you know it’s way too early for a bloom. Even here in the south, where Mother Nature fools us with a few days of spring only to throw winter right back at us the next week, daylilies don’t bloom until April at the very earliest.

But, then again, this particular plant … our Shakespeare’s Red … has surprised us before. It was the first to bloom last year, though not quite this early, and it had several offshoots that are now planted in other areas in the yard. It’s been prolific and hardy and just gorgeous. This was the first daylily we ever bought, Tim and I together. And here it stands, open to the sky, on this ugly gray morning.

Standing there in my fuzzy bathrobe and well-worn sneakers, with the neighborhood quiet around me, I remember all the hours we’ve spent in this very spot surrounded by the beauty that is a blooming garden. And I smile, all thoughts of war and gray hair put behind me.

“Thank you,” I say and turn to go inside, planning to return before leaving for work to take at least a dozen pictures.

Walking back inside, I look around at our home — at the beloved green boat parked in the driveway, the lavender flowers on the table that Tim gave me for Valentine’s Day, the shiny new kitchen appliances, and the photos on the fridge of smiling faces surrounded by autumn leaves and sunshine — and I am brought low by how badly I’ve missed the mark this morning. The world has more than its share of gray. It always has and always will. But, oh, it has stunning colors too. We cannot surrender to the gray because it will diminish us with every passing day. We must find the color, find the light and hold onto it with both hands.

Before leaving for the day, I take the box of hair dye out again and set in plain sight so it will be waiting for me this evening, and I go back to our Shakespeare’s Red and take one perfect photograph. This one I will print out and frame and put next to the bed as a reminder of the beauty that’s waiting for me right outside the window.


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