Saturday, August 19, 2006

August 19, 2006 - Return of the Beard?

I'm sitting in the cafe of a Borders bookstore in Plattsburgh, New York, as I'm writing this. it's the closest place to our "camp" (vacation cabin) in Jay, New York, where I can get Internet access with my laptop (for a small fee to T-Mobile, of course).

I'm about three weeks into my vacation. Claire is here with me, and we've had a wonderful time of relaxing together, and just BEING.

I've been growing my beard back. After a couple of weeks of not shaving, it's just beginning to look like the beard is intentional - as opposed to my just being lazy, and walking around unshaven.

Except for a couple of very brief periods, I've had a beard since my freshman year of college. In those days (late 1970s), it was a common enough thing to do, for young men of my generation. Keeping the beard all those years was not so much a statement of wistful longing for the counterculture, for me, as simply being unwilling to change. I had gotten used to it, and when I looked at myself in the bathroom mirror, the beard was what I expected to see.

When I cut it off last winter, as the hair-loss from my chemotherapy treatments was beginning in earnest, I looked like a different person. My kids barely recognized me. Many people told me they thought I looked about ten years younger. For the first time, I could see a strong family resemblance between myself and my brother, Jim, and with our late father (I always thought I looked like my younger brother, Dave, even with the beard).

Once the treatments were ended, I was of a divided mind as to what to do about the beard (and still am). Claire and the kids have been unanimous in saying I ought to grow it back. Most other people who have weighed in on the subject say I should keep it off. Many folks from the church - perhaps because they're more conservative by nature, or perhaps because they just think I look better without it - have been gently lobbying me to remain clean-shaven.

My growing it back in, right now, is something of an experiment. I'm up here in the north woods, so I can take the time to grow it in a bit, and see what it looks like. So far, the early signs are that it will come back whiter than before (the same is true of the hair on my head, but most people who have seen me know that already).

Another reason why I'm of a divided mind about growing the beard back in is a bit harder to put into words. During my chemo treatments, as I was walking around hairless, I felt like I was visibly displaying a sign of what I was going through. (I would not ordinarily have chosen to be so public about a medical matter, but I really didn't have a choice.) Don't get me wrong - I would much rather have kept my hair - but since hair loss was inevitable, I was willing enough to go through with it. It was what it was.

I feel like having cancer has changed me, somehow. I'm not sure I can define how, exactly - I just feel different. My new, clean-shaven self has been symbolic, somehow, of that change. Growing my beard back in, exactly as it was before, makes me feel almost like I'm denying the reality of what I have been going through.

I don't want to do that. I don't want to turn back the clock. I want to move forward, as the person I am - which includes being a cancer survivor.

Is the beard truly symbolic of that resolve? Or is it irrelevant?

Who knows what I'll ultimately decide? Stay tuned...


Chia said...

What a great blog this is and what a nice man you are !

I wish you all the best, take care.

Kind regards from The Netherlands.

Carlos ("Carl") said...

Thank you, Chia. I appreciate the kind words.