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Rembrandt: A Bust of an Old Man with Flowing Beard: the Head Inclined Three-Quarters Right (1630)
"I might even find deeper meaning in my life hiding behind a beard."

I think of myself as being in the meaning business. True, it doesn't pay much, but it's my manner of living. I can't accept face value. I believe that everything holds deeper meaning and that appearances prove misleadingly superficial. We can't tell books by their covers because book covers aren't books, but then neither are their contents. Books might be experiences never found very well represented within any of their components, of which personal reflection perhaps ranks highest. Books seem to be interactions, their meanings emergent, their significance widely varying between individual readers. A single book might hold as many meanings as readers, and perhaps many more than that, for deeper meanings exhibit great ambiguity, shifting as one plumbs deeper. As near as I can tell, meaning continues expanding as long as attention holds.

All of my adult life, I've maintained a cleanly-shaven face, with the exception of my once rebellious and since tamed mustache.
I might have inherited this trait, as my father's forebears and my father himself were all compulsive shavers. My dad expended great energy every morning scraping his face and would emerge for breakfast beaming from his labors and reeking of aftershave. I learned from my longhair period just how judgmental people can be and labored tirelessly afterward to maintain a clean-cut appearance. Yes, I sported my mustache, but not one which might be mistaken for the kind bad guys wore in Westerns, nothing pencil-thin or shaggy. A beard was absolutely out of the question for me because in the dominant cultural icons, beards meant nefarious intentions, such that whomever might be beneath one was obviously up to something, hiding behind. I never felt I could afford to project such conflicting cues. Beards belonged on the ancients, not us moderns. I grew to consider a beard evidence of an underlying laziness, and while I recognize this judgement as a prejudice, there it was. I saw many counter-examples, of course, but if only because the bearded seemed to be hiding behind something, I discounted those.

What meaning might I make when I wake up to see a beard sprouting on my face? I've noticed a definite degradation of my usual customs under the thumb of This Damned Pandemic. I've aged a decade over the last year. I'm growing increasingly disinterested in maintaining appearances while prevented from continuing old routines. My older habits have grown boring and increasingly unimportant. I eat without relish and often skip meals to avoid the resulting cleaning up. I shuffle through once enlivening chores. I might be going to seed. I concede that I've been aging all this time and seem ready to accept the judgement that I've become an old man, no longer simply of indeterminate middle-age, but clearly an elder. An elder, perhaps absent expected wisdom, well on my way to becoming another little old man for my efforts. And with this growing acceptance comes acquiescence to the inevitables. My shaving never once dissuaded my whiskers from growing. Might I find a certain renewal in not shaving? A second adolescence, perhaps?

I have not yet dedicated myself to maintaining anything. My face itching, my chin catching on my collar, I'm finding my emerging laxity rather cloying and might flee back into shaving at any increasingly annoying second. I've seen the weak chins appearing after my colleagues shaved off their beards and so I appreciate that there might never be any going back from there. I sense myself growing more thoughtful and catch myself affecting the slightest hint of a Viennese accent along with a budding interest in wearing crossed bandoliers of bullets across my chest, maybe biker leathers. I could become cantankerous, start collecting senior discounts, and show up for the four o'clock supper seating. I could go all day without noticing evidence of my breakfast stuck to my chin and never again find adequate reason to scrutinize my reflection. Beyond scruffy, I might discover a certain elegance, even a diplomatic countenance, all youthful appearance abandoned. Good riddance! I could consider myself sage and terrify small children, dogs barking wherever I pass. I could sit in more convenient senior seating on the bus without fare inspectors ever even thinking of questioning my presence there. I might even find deeper meaning in life hiding behind a beard.

©2021 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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