Standing in front of my mirror, I wipe the sleep from my eyes. Contact lenses in, I go through the motions: I brush my teeth and floss (my dentist would be proud), wash my face and slather on shaving lotion. I place the rechargeable batteries into my cheap electric shaver and let it do its thing as it glides along my face. Whrrrrr. A few minutes later I am showered and dressed for the day, my morning routine complete.
I wish I could skip the whole damn thing. Well not everything, perhaps. Running my tongue across my set of squeaky clean chompers is pretty gratifying. And washing the pillow crease lines from my face is OK. But it’s shaving that gets me down. I hate shaving.
I said as much to a Jesuit I lived with once, years ago. It didn’t go well. “Shaving is what makes you a man!”, he insisted. I’m not so sure about his gender theory, but I know what I know: I don’t particularly like shaving. Or rather, having to do it every day.
Every time I look at myself in the mirror, I wonder if there is a way I can stop my beard from growing. I wish I could change my DNA, somehow come up with a way to mix up my chromosomes to stanch the flow of hairs poking out of my face. I want some scientist out there to develop an experimental laser treatment for my whole face, delivering me from my daily labor. Surely someone is interested in this groundbreaking field of personal grooming, no?
Alas, I guess not.
I think it’s the routine of this routine maintenance that I resent so much. Doing the same thing day after day doesn’t feel like forward progress or movement to me. It feels like I’m stuck on some sort of endless loop or treadmill. It feels like a waste of time.
Shaving, of course, isn’t the only thing in my life that is a work of maintenance, that feels like an inefficient use of my time. I check and respond to emails seemingly all day – my neverending (and never empty) inbox calls to me with phone notifications and screen pop-ups.
My ‘call sheet’ – that endless list of people to whom I owe phone or Skype calls – is massive at any given time, and it seems that I have adopted a daily task of adding someone to it.
Even the literal maintenance of keeping my gadgets charged keeps me tethered to the wall where I burn precious minutes waiting for my cell phone or computer’s battery to reach its full potential. And I’m not alone: in my travels this summer I have often seen tired folks all over the airport sitting on the floor beside trash cans, shorts cords attached to wall and device waiting, waiting.
There are endless places or circumstances in this life where shortcuts would be nice, but most of them aren’t really worthwhile.The truth is, there are very few viable shortcuts in life, spiritual or otherwise. The least efficient use of my time isn’t in my daily, sometimes monotonous habits or practices. No, the least efficient use of my time are the moments I spend resenting my present state. The least efficient effort is trying to get around myself, instead of embracing who I am, where I am at, and what I am about, moving forward in peace, not in haste.
So much of life is a work of maintenance, the daily tending to the tasks and circumstances of life and relationships. It takes some self-awareness to know that this is time well-spent, because while I don’t think shaving is what makes me a man, these familiar rhythms and rituals make me – us – more human, honest, and closer to one another.