First, I noticed the purple hair. A wide streak that caught the sunlight, with hints of magenta at the edges.
So I had to ask. The woman, who has a girlish energy actually, looked up and smiled when I asked her about her purple hair.
"I did it for my 50th birthday," she said. Her name was Lisa Hess, a project manager at an architectural firm in Sarasota, Florida.
"I thought about Botox, but I can't afford it and anyway, I don't do needles," she laughed.
Lisa had joined Toastmasters, an organization that helps people become comfortable public speakers (did you know that public speaking is America's Number 1 fear?), because she has to give a lot of presentations for her job. But also because she wanted to embolden herself for her secret dream.
She met "a little Filipino lady in her 60s," who always came in dressed to the nine's, Lisa explained. "She had a cute, modern short haircut, jet black, but she always had a colored streak to match whatever outfit she was wearing."
So when Lisa's 50th birthday came around in December, she was inspired to do Advent colors in her hair.
It felt like a rite of passage," she says.
She had a big presentation for work shortly after the dye job, but her supervisor was flexible. "It was still pretty bright at that point," Lisa admitted, but she carefully contrasted it with a very conservative gray suit, and won the day.
When you're 50 you can get away with it," she grinned.
Advent means 'coming', so perhaps this signifies a coming into her own. We accompanied Lisa on one of her passionate pilgrimages: going to the Cat Depot, a gorgeous animal shelter for rescue cats in Sarasota, to pick up several little kittens and one big cat.
The sanctuary is clean, efficient and accommodating and take them to The Pines, a senor retirement facility not far away.
The seniors there love having the little furry visitors; they brighten their day and widen their sphere of contact. Plus, research shows that kittens grow up to be more affectionate with humans when they are frequently held and petted when they're young.
What I really want to do when I grow up..."
Lisa's dream, she revealed, is to design senior facilities called Strays & Grays. It would combine retirement housing with animal rescue shelter so the two populations could benefit each other on an ongoing basis. Long-range plan even incorporate day care for little kids – a modern reinvention of what used to be one-big-family living. And a cohesive sense of community sorely missing these days.
It sounds like a brilliant idea, even brighter than the magenta edges of her purple hair — which she decided to continue after her birthday and gets it redone at a salon about every 6 weeks.
I thought about how many women claim Invisible Woman syndrome in midlife. But Lisa Hess illustrates that it should, and can be, just the opposite.
Midlife is the time to get bright, so dye your hair purple or whatever it takes for your rite of passage and get busy realizing your real dream!