Friday, April 28, 2006Here's a delighful excerpt from Andy Crouch's "The Best a Man Can Get," a thoughtful meditation on middle age, modern convenience, and the pursuit of the Perfect Shave. What is the morning shave, after all, but a quotidian reminder of renewed potential, revitalization, and the debridement of the last 24 hours' worth of life's debris? As our brains need to dream, so are we compelled to shave.
While I don't need to worry about shaving my face every morning - or any morning, for that matter - I'm also 38, so a lot of what he writes here rings true...
"...After the age of forty, every man is responsible for his own face." This aphorism, most commonly attributed to Albert Camus, was comforting when I heard it in my twenties. I was not given an easy face to be responsible for—angular, pale, and regularly visited, well into my thirties, by the acne that I was once assured was a passing adolescent tribulation. I took comfort not just in Camus's implied absolution for those faults dredged up from the Bennett and Crouch gene pools, but also in the promise that a life well lived might change my countenance, if not into that of a movie star, at least into a soft grandfatherly handsomeness. Forty also seemed comfortably far away, as distant a milestone as 21 once was. If nothing else, Camus's quote was yet another way to prolong adolescence (the state of mature irresponsibility, with or without acne) well into adulthood.[via Rebecca's Pocket] Do we have "the face we deserve" at forty? Maybe, maybe not...accidents of fate can disrupt our deserving faces' future in an instant, though the daily drip of time etches our faces to match our habitual expressions. If you wear a scowl at 20, you'll probably be wearing a permanent one at 40 or 50. A memorable face with character will age "well," even if youth's plump smoothness flies out the window. But IMHO, regardless of one's gender, wet shaving is the only way to go. Dry shaving is for the birds.
Now I am 38, two years away from Camus's benchmark. The only remaining milestone for maturity I can think of is fifty, the age of AARP membership and annual prostate exams. I am not sure I still find Camus's aphorism comforting. And thanks to Google I now know that Camus may not have meant to comfort me in any case, since the most common form of the quote begins with a word I never heard in my twenties: "Alas, . . ."
Alas, unless the next two years bring a sudden Botox-like transformation, the face I will be responsible for in my forties and beyond has quite as many faults as the one I was not responsible for in my twenties. And without a doubt, wet shaving has only made me more conscious of the face I am about to be responsible for. Every morning I stand in front of the mirror, naked from the waist up, and spend a good ten minutes peering intently at every angle and curve, every wrinkle and blemish. This is not, fundamentally, an encouraging experience.
I am not young anymore, I find myself thinking on these mirror mornings. I am not old, either, but I am old enough to be responsible. What have I done? What is there left for me to do? I have had a good, even wonderful, life so far, with vastly more than my share of blessing. I suspect I am far happier than Albert Camus. But who can go through forty years of this life, any life on this beautiful cursed earth, and not say, "Alas"?
But if Camus's slogan is no longer comforting, it has become bracing. Just in time, at the age of 38, I have learned how to shave. I have become responsible for my own face.[read full article]