I’ve never been able to grow a beard. I tried to squeeze out a goatee in 2000, but the results were frankly appalling. My driver’s license still makes me wince but serves as a useful rescue device whenever conversation with relative strangers threatens to stagnate. It’s ironic too, as ever since I was seventeen I’ve always had plenty of skills in the sideburn department. Trouble is, once it gets further on and further in things just end up a little patchy, like fragile growth a year on from a forest fire.
But things are different now. I’m giving it a go. Not just a little one either, but a full-facer. I’m thinking Bee-Gees meets Kings of Leon. And you know what, I feel like I’m in a really good place. Carpe Diem, my friends, the stubble is on the move.
There’s an inevitable question that has to be asked, which is why I’m writing now.
It’s fair enough too. After all, if, at 33, this is my first time of feeling the potential matches up to the plan, shouldn’t I have got over this my now? Surely I should be way past such games?
I should. But I’m not. The truth is that I’m doing all this because I want to look a little different; I want to see something other than the usual staring back at me in from the bathroom mirror. Not that I’m unhappy about the sight that greets me—I’ve grown used to my quirks and oddities, the fact that I look like a member of ancient French Aristocracy.
On the one hand I’m telling myself that this is simply a rational, sensible response to my psyche’s dabbling in the newly-opened franchise of mid-life-crisis, currently tickling up a little trade within me. After all, the whole beard thing’s a safer, cheaper and only marginally more embarrassing option than an open-top sports car.
But it’s not just about foolish rebellion. Somewhere among the clutter of clutzy motives is a genuine desire for change—the sort of change that lasts, the sort that sees me moving on to the next permanent placement in my life. Of course I’m talking about faith here. After all, what other sort of change is worth the effort?
My wish list may be short, but it’s mighty. I’ve had enough of the wild flinging between my trademark bouts of enthusiasm and apathy. I’m through with the days of waiting for others to give me permission to get on and put my faith into the next gear; as for the need to be validated by notions of Christian credibility … finis.
There’s a book I’ve got half way through reading and then managed to lose. It’s called Christianity Rediscovered, and the title alone does it for me. Written by a—now deceased—Catholic priest by the name of Vincent Donovan, it explores the work and reflections that came out of his time as a missionary to the Maasai of Tanzania. Confronting a system that had failed to allow the Maasai to make lasting, genuine connections with the faith, he was desperate for change yet unsure of quite how the required shifts would be nurtured into life. But despite the colossal, mapless task ahead of him, Donovan set off regardless. The results were astounding, brought about on his part by a determination to pursue change through a collection of small steps, by his ability to look clearly at a stale situation, to re-imagine the world despite it being apparently set in stone.
In my current state—a little itchy from the new growth, checking the progress by the hour—I’m a long way off the final destination. The voices of ridicule are audible. They suggest that it’s a lost cause, that I’ve been here before and will surely end up back at square one within a couple of weeks. They tell me to save the bother and call it quits right now. They tell me that by my age I really ought to have accepted the realities of life, that I ought to put up with things as they are and forget all this chasing after illusory goals.
But the truth is that, like the beard, this sense of wanting more from my faith is not to be despised. Yes, I’m a beginner. Yes, it looks a little odd. And, yes, I really should have dealt with some of these issues already. But this is me, wanting more. And I’m pretty sure that’s OK. Maybe the beard will help. Maybe it will remind me to keep the faith, to ride this current wave of determination and inspiration. Of course, maybe after a fortnight I’ll reach the inevitable conclusion that my Anglo/Scots genes simply aren’t up to the task of making me look swarthy and bohemian and intriguing. Maybe. Some things just can’t be changed, and acceptance is the only option. As for the rest of me, the bits I can control … well, they’re another story altogether.