I polled my family yesterday as we hiked Cadillac Mountain in Acadia: don't you think that the beard makes me look distinguished? My daughters and wife answered voted no. The girls suggested it was time to shave. My wife, knowing how well I take to being told what to do, asked, do you really want to keep it? It's the right question.
We are on vacation and I have used the razor only to trim my sparse beard. It is very salt and pepper leaning more toward salt. In the mirror I see a face transformed though still mine. It reminds me of dreams in which I'm in my home but it looks different. I realize that it's not my home, but it feels like home so much that the physical changes don't quite matter. Looking at my bearded face, I'm at home in the changes.
Still, I see their point. I don't look quite myself and my wife isn't much for kissing an unshaved face. While I truly enjoy stroking the beard in a contemplative posture, I'm much more partial to her kisses. So I'm over a barrel here.
For years, when asked about growing a beard, I've said that I can't, it comes in too sparsely and I look like a thirteen year old boy. I've thought that was the truth, but I've said those things to be self-effacing. False modesty, however, is in no way becoming. Further, there is at least as much hair growing on my face as grows on my head. My excuses are not only foolish they are untrue. The real reason that I don't grow a beard is that it isn't in keeping with who I am.
None of which is to say that I can't grow one now and again, but even I vote against the beard in the long run. On my face, it's a dodge, a fake, not a real acknowledgment of who I am and want to be. Like a costume, it's fun to wear on occasion, but I ought not go to work every day dressed as Spiderman.
I've got a couple vacation days left and will probably keep the beard through our return home. Then again, I might edit this essay and go shave. There's nothing to prove with it. Real transformation is slower and deeper than the greying stubble. The beard though is a good way of thinking about transformation and movement. It's a sign of something rather than the thing itself. Reading it that way is a comfort to me this morning. I don't have to keep a beard to change, I don't have to see a different face in the mirror, I just need to be a person moving forward and in the process of becoming. Always in the process of becoming.
Though that sounds self-helpy and new age, it's the truth of my morning as I watch the tide come in, feel the breeze pushing clouds across the sky, and tap the keys fast, creating words on the screen and thoughts in my mind. I just stroked the beard, thinking what to write next, realizing that a smooth chin would produce the same results. The friction of the beard is nothing compared to that between my mind and fingers, burning hot and bright as I write and write on.