I think I decided to “sprout” a beard as soon as I was able to grow one. Most likely, even before that - when facial hair was no more than an unpromising stubble. Was this in an effort to appear older? Or perhaps, I saw it as a stamp of my own individuality. I really can’t remember that far back. I only know that, except for a few years later in life, I had a beard in some shape or form.
By the time I could grow a beard, and had reached an age where I could grow my hair long, the hippies had pretty well run out of steam - many of them leaving behind their nomadic, power of love life style, to open stylish boutiques where money became their new object of concern. We were into the seventies, the sixties were but a memory, but either no one had told me that the flower generation was over, or I didn’t care. With my long hair and beard, I set out for an Israeli commune, looking for a life where people lived together in harmony and social bliss.
It would be interesting to measure my induction into the socialistic life style of the kibbutz against the length of my beard. When I arrived on the kibbutz, one might say that my beard was “bushy”. Yet still under control. I had spent two months before that working in a small hotel on Rue Pigalle in Paris - what was known as the red light district. The characters that I met during those two months could have provided the inspiration for a compelling thriller. They took one look at this young Canadian boy, who they called “Le petit Jesus”, and took me under their ward. They would take me out for a walk through Paris late at night and I knew that there was nothing to be scared of, as they were much scarier than anything we could possibly meet on the way. At the end of the two months, when I was supposed to go to Israel to join an ulpan, they did everything in their power (other than kidnapping me) to try and convince me to stay. I often wonder what would have happened if I had stayed. But more about that in a future blog entry, entitled “Life Choices”.
So when did my beard start getting out of control. One might say, just before my marriage. By then I looked like a character out of the “Lion King” - or The Lion King himself. I was still in an upward spiral, becoming more and more of an integral part of the kibbutz, filling many roles such as head of the Manpower and Education committees. We had our first child and he spent his first years sleeping in the children’s house. But then things began to change - the kibbutz began to change. The signs were there - had been for quite a while, I imagine. Even now, although I left the kibbutz for the same ideological reasons that brought me there, I am surprised at how quickly it all fell apart. Right up to privatization.
And these are the years where my beard got increasingly shorter. Soon, the overall bushy look was gone, although there was still a firm growth of beard there. A vote in the general assembly decided that children would now live at home. And, as I became more and more involved in the sensitive areas of the kibbutz - especially when I became the head of the Members Committee, I saw how big the cracks had become, and found it difficult to justify staying there any longer. And my beard could now be described as “neat” - something it hadn’t been since my early Canadian years.
It must have been a year or two after we left the kibbutz, moving down to live in the Negev, that I shaved off my beard altogether. Maybe this was my way of stating that I was starting something completely new. I needed something to signify the separation, something which was an intricate part of myself. I remember when Adva came home and saw this strange man in the house. She was quite excited at the time, at least for the first few minutes until she realized it was me. That is another good thing about having a beard. By shaving it off, you can feel that you made a significant change in your life. Even if it is only for a moment. But growing a beard is nowhere the same. As G. K. Chesterton once said: “You cannot grow a beard in a moment of passion.”
When it comes down to it, it is all skin deep - or should I say “hair deep”. Some people told me that being clean shaven made me look more distinguished, others - “younger’... but there were those - especially my sister and two childhood friends - who appeared to have a problem recognizing me in my new naked form. Not that they didn’t know who I was - but they had grown up knowing me only as a bearded wonder. And then this new person walked into their lives and he didn’t quite fit.
Probably the thing that convinced me to grow back a beard, albeit a small one, was that I could never get used to not being able to run my hand over my beard when in deep contemplation. There was no friction to help me think. Also, while staring at myself in the mirror, I was taken aback by the gaunt look. So, much to the chagrin of some people, I started to sprout facial hairs again.
And here I am, late in life, wondering whether to just shave it all off again. Is it now the need to look younger? Or simply a need for change? In my facebook status, I asked people to vote for what they like more: a bearded or beardless David. If I thought they would help me decide, I was mistaken, as the votes are split more or less down the middle.
Maybe I should listen to the wisdom of Jean Cocteau: “There is always a period when a man with a beard shaves it off. The period does not last. He returns headlong to his beard.”
There are those who experiment with having a beard, and those of us who experiment without having one.