Now, St. Augustine of Canterbury, “apostles to the English,” is a favorite for any Anglophile. Pope Gregory sent him to Kent in 597 after seeing an unfortunate group of young “angles” at a Roman slave market. Their blonde hair arrested Gregory, and he asked someone what country they were from. “They are angles” he was told, “from England.” Not angles, the Pope replied thoughtfully. “They are angels, and they thirst to know Jesus Christ.” Good Pope Gregory sent one of his fellow Benedictines, Augustine, to Canterbury that year to bring Jesus to the England. And today we enjoy the fruits of that evangelization: the anglo-saxon rule of law (the Magna Carta), the world of literature, art, music, and ordered government that flowered in England for a thousand years.
It was their hair color that amazed Gregory. People pay a lot of money to replicate that kind of blonde in their own coiffures. My own hair is pure white at this point, but some, who deem me too young for total white, politely describe my hair as “blonde.” But the fact is, I’m beyond gray, and my childhood blonde is long gone. I am Gandalf the White now.
I inherited early gray from my mother, who colored her hair throughout my childhood. When she decided to go natural, I asked her why she had dyed her hair all those years. “First, dear,” she told me, “I wanted to look younger for your father. Men are a little embarrassed if their wives look older than them. But also, society disregards gray-haired women.”
I’ve found that to be true in my case too, although far less than if I were female. I can understand why women, and some men (most Filipino priests I know!), color their gray hairs. Dismissing white-headed folks is most evident in our large health care systems today. When my hair was a thick brown, and when my medical records stated I was under fifty, my health was taken seriously by the massive “integrated managed care consortium” into which I pay. Over the last ten years many of the physicians of this Integrated Delivery Network (there are some inspiring exceptions) treat me more like an old car. Why spend a lot of time and money on an old machine?
Over the last three years my feet have been hurting. It took three years and a measure of nastiness on my part to finally see a podiatrist within this health care system. I’m fairly sure a younger man would have gotten right into the sports medicine department. But even a 58-year-old, even if his hair is totally white, must walk to and from his job.
As we’ve distanced ourselves from Christianity, we’ve distanced ourselves from Christian anthropology, which sees each human life, from conception to death, as a gift. Certainly our health care system regards human persons more as meat machines than as people these days. And so do we all, to some degree. It’s better to look more deeply into the human person, to discover the humanity in each individual. Even old people are people, and as my hero Horton (the elephant) said, “a person’s a person, no matter how small.”