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Meditations While Shaving (March 2022)
By Mike Adamson
I noticed this morning that the bar of soap by my sink is getting thin.
It’s not one of life’s great events, taken on its own merits, but it could be — if you think about it. It’s certainly a metaphor. I mean, I don’t remember when I started this bar, but only yesterday it didn’t strike me as thin. Today it does. It happened like throwing a switch, not-thin became thin, and this event, so commonplace, so natural, repeating all around us, all the time, is so very important.
I fill the sink with hot water and take the soap in hand, wet it and begin to lather my hands with a slow economy of motion. When you get to my age you waste nothing, especially not energy, because life has made it very clear it will give nothing back. Now the soap is thin, which means it’s middle-aged. It’ll keep getting thinner until it’s old, then break up into pebbles and flakes — the senescence of soap. And finally it’ll be gone completely, the death, dissolved to the last shred and flushed away down miles of impersonal pipes to the treatment works, where its component atoms will recombine in organic compounds to build vast swarms of bacteria …
I muse on this as I lather my face, taking in the retreated hair, deep-cut nasolabial folds of my face, melting jawline, without actually seeing the details. I don’t want to see the details. That’s what it’s all about, this soul-searching; for today is the day and I’m both excited and terrified, because I’ll have a gauntlet to run.
Making oneself presentable is part of the social dance we all learn in life. Some people do dress-up-and-pretend better than others, some are great at defying time. Having good genes is the real trick — anything else is just painting over rotten wood, so to speak. Clean clothes, a shower, a fresh shave. These are the hallmarks of civility, the courtesy done one’s fellow human being — rituals connecting us with society, whatever role we play and however deep our involvement with it may be. The act of putting on a suit and tie is the same thing; the uniform marks one as a member of a club, and this ingrained regimentation is why male formalwear has remained fundamentally unchanged for a hundred-fifty years.
I set my old-fashioned razor to my face and feel it glide through the soap, one patient stroke at a time. I hear the subtle scrunching, feel the thrill in the nerves of the cutting action as protein generated in my dermis is excised by stainless steel. Drops fall into the sink with a plaintive patter and the stubble disappears in the mirror, replaced by the dark shadow which never goes away, no matter how silver the hair becomes.
There’s no hurry. The process is not time-sensitive — indeed, it is its own self-contained dance, a negotiation between the individual and the culture. I sometimes think of it as the Western man’s answer to the Japanese tea ceremony. It connects one with reality, roots, and the wider world through which we move. I breathe deeply, smell the steam, hear the sound of traffic in the street, and take my time. Rinse the razor properly — watch the scummy, dark suds swirl. Next stroke ... feel for rough patches, resoap, stroke from a different angle. One must be presentable on the day one confronts eternity.
I’m going to do something radical today. It doesn’t matter which side of the fence you’re on, everyone is agreed it’s radical. I know, when I get to the clinic there’ll be a picket line of religious protestors waving their placards and shouting how G-d will punish me if I do what I intend.
There’s a euthanasia clinic a few miles away. I’ve heard kids on the bus making jokes about it, how the goods walk in but leave by truck. It’s very funny to them; they’re separated by half a century or more from making such choices. Maybe these choices won’t be necessary when they get there, but here and now, they are. There are always demonstrators camped outside to tell anyone who wishes to put an end to their existence that life eternal will be denied them by this option.
A few miles away in the other direction is an abortion clinic, and you hear it denounced from the pulpit — another place where there are always demonstrators telling people they’ll be denied grace by their decisions. The freedom to object is a cornerstone of society, of course, and they’re certainly free to disagree with these things. We lost much of our freedom to criticize our pretentious, posturing leaders when I was of an age with the kids on the bus.
The ritual of smoothing my face is almost complete now. I need to stretch the skin to let the razor slip smoothly across it, much more than I used to. It too is a sign of the times, like the aging bar of soap by the sink.
I’ll drive myself to my appointment. I’m not so far gone I need anyone’s help. I’ve talked it over with family and they are supportive. We all reach an age when we have to do something, and our choices are shaped by so many factors. Work, interests, relationships, finances, ambitions, simple hopes and beliefs. They all play a part. I could do nothing, let nature take its course; I could pretend I’m something I’m not, but I’ve never been a pretender. I prefer concrete actions, and to proceed from the basis of known quantities.
I rinse my face thoroughly, let the water go and splash the sink around to move the stubborn whiskers. I dry my razor and set it aside. A soft towel dries my face, and the shave has the momentary effect of updating my appearance a tiny bit, refreshing me for the events to come.
All things are a matter of degree. A minute increment or a sea-change are both values on an arbitrary scale, and I stand by the sink for a long time, knowing what I’m about to do is a step from which there’s no coming back. I review my reasons and they seem good to me. I can only acknowledge, there will be that wall of shouting faces to contend with — those who’ll pelt me with stones unless security has been laid on today. I’ve never courted conflict, but I want this, and they will not stop me.
Now the ritual of the shave is done with, time seems to speed up; all is the ticking away of the seconds as my tired hands get me into clean clothes, lace shoes. I select a jacket and go through the things I’ll need. ID, cards, keys, watch, mobile, just like any other day one crosses one’s doorstep.
My head and heart are level, strangely enough, as I leave my home and key the releases of my whisper-silent electric car. I make my way through the traffic of morning with the discreet assistance of the dashboard computer. I know there was a time before all this, just as there was a time before glass or bricks. The philosopher in me understands, humans adapt. The ones hurling abuse at people who have moved on in the framework of their reality still have to make this leap, and I’m confident a day will come when they do.
Despite its gravity for me, the day is much like any other; I drum my fingers on the wheel as I wait at lights, then flow along with the quiet river of vehicles and eventually reach my destination. The parking lot is never full — these places always have room for one more, or ten more. Guards are on duty, I see, and am thankful. I have a few minutes yet. I’ve been punctual, so I sit and breathe deeply, let the sounds and sights of the world flow by, and concentrate on my reasons.
At last I step out and key the locks with a blip from the lights, square my shoulders and make my way across the green lawn frontage. A black-uniformed guard greets me courteously and escorts me up the long walkway, where protestors chant in a frenzy, brandishing placards, beating fists against the backs in time with their slogans. G-d hates you! G-d punishes the disobedient! You’ll burn! Greed is a sin! Our children’s future is more important than yours! The last is the only pertinent one, at least the only one I acknowledge. I don’t agree with it, but I understand its motivation.
The guard delivers me to the top of the steps. I gratefully pass through the soundproof foyer, show my appointment slip at the reception desk and take a seat. Here at last — the anticipation was worse than the reality, and now I can relax and look up at the screens playing their loops of data.
Daylesford Rejuvenation Clinic is a full-service facility, everything from first consultation to final treatment, with finance and social counselling on the side. The protestors were here the first time I came as a tired 73, and will still be here the last time I leave, a strapping 25. I paid my taxes, I saved my income, and now I want a second shot at life.
Winding back the clock is considered an evil by many but, like guns, it’s a reality of the twenty-first century social landscape. Like guns, it’s not going away. They’re both products of science and cannot be unlearned. There are places in the world where it’s business as usual and nobody makes this three-ring circus, but our society is still thrashing in the discomfort of being forced to deal with the new.
I wonder for a moment what it’ll be like shaving in the year or two ahead, as the pleats of my face are taken up, smoothed out, by the directed apoptosis of the skin, the restoration of collagen structure. How it will be to see without need of the bionic corneas I was about to receive, to correct the hair growth patterns of scalp and body to their old settings, feel my circulatory system blow clean and pump smoothly, skeleton pull straight and move on freshly regenerated cartilage and bursas ...
An adventure, they assure me; and one I’m more than ready for — one which will carry me well into the twenty-second century.
I want to see the future and all it promises; the past is not coming back and there has to be something better than the present. So long as the human wish to be modified can be answered with a commodity for purchase, the door will be open, and I’m joining the many who have stepped through the portal of the future.
My number is called and I rise with a smile, knowing it’s now only a matter of time before I can get out of a chair without my spine and knees reminding me of my age. Yes, I think, more certain than ever.
Let’s do this.
Text copyright © 2022 by the author. Illustration by Pixabay, used under license.
About the Author: Mike Adamson (blog) holds a Doctoral degree from Flinders University of South Australia. After early aspirations in art and writing, Mike returned to study and secured qualifications in marine biology and archaeology. Mike has been a university educator since 2006, is a passionate photographer, master-level hobbyist and journalist for international magazines.