Many years ago when my son came to the age of needing to shave he asked me to show him how. He is a grown man now and in no need of further instructions, and yet I am offering him an update on my original advice. I’m now 73 years old and have been learning that shaving is more than cutting whiskers. Shaving is one of those few moments in a man’s day when he can reflect on his thoughts as his face reflects in the mirror. For me, it has become a time of reflection of what my life looks like, inside and out. What has happened outside of me because of what was inside of me as well as the reverse: Reliving regretful experiences and harvesting lessons from them, overhauling habits, seeking wisdom from acts of folly, and most of all developing self-acceptance and gratefulness. It isn’t easy to do in those few minutes in front of the mirror.
Let me start with this; gratefulness. Taking a shower, sitting down on the throne, shaving your face; these are those daily duties we just do and take for granted as well as the access to the facilities to do them. It struck me recently to read about the plight of a man who was denied such simple and basic everyday needs. What initially caught my attention was that he was referred to as an elderly man, but he was two years younger than me. I read the article; he had been held hostage in an American gulag for the “crime” of being at the nation’s Capitol on January 6th of 2021 in a constitutionally legitimate gathering in support of a political issue. This is his account:
“On January 6, 2021 I was arrested and taken first to this place I can only describe as a dungeon. But Websters definition does not do it justice. It says, “A dark cell for prisoners”. That is just a start. Its dark alright. With 2 people in a cell about 5×7 with a commode, no sink, no water, and no toilet paper. If you needed a drink you had to get the guards attention and at his pleasure, he would bring you a 6oz cup of water. If you needed to poop you had to call the guard and ask for toilet paper. The guard would take a roll of toilet paper and depending on the roll size, he would roll off maybe 5 or 6 loops and he would leave. If that wasn’t enough, you had to call him back for more”.
I’ve been able to do what this man has not been allowed to do every single day since he and others have been imprisoned nearly a year ago for absolutely no legitimate reason.
When my boy asked me to show him how to shave I was taken by surprise as it was a question that I had never thought of asking my dad. He grew up in a family of 3 other brothers on the farm in the early 1900s in western Minnesota. He was a younger brother and I don’t know if they all used the same razor, if the skill was taught to the oldest and passed on down to him or if it was self-taught.
In my box of family heirlooms I have a straight razor that might’ve been the one they used. Sometimes when I’m shaving I think of a movie scene of a gangster who was getting a shave with a straight razor by a barber whose son was executed by that man’s gang. The barber’s long straight razor came up the gangster’s neck that in a second could slash his jugular, but he would be met with death by gang members standing behind him with their fingers hovering over the triggers of their firearms. The instruments of death were in his hand and in the hands of others behind his back. He had a choice to make; would he slit the man’s throat and die now or live with regret for not doing so? Short and sweet revenge or lifelong bitterness. What would I have done?
When I started to shave my dad was using a double-edged razor and a soap mug and brush, I started out with a clunky corded shaver. Since that time I’ve gone through various razor styles, one that I especially liked had insert cartridges that were very affordable. It looked sleek and felt good in my hand, it had dual blades and worked well. But then it and it’s replacement blades went off the market. That razor was replaced by one that used double, triple blades that were too expensive for my tastes. So I have used a simple metal one that uses double-edged blades that I can’t find in a retail store, so I buy them in bulk online. When we go traveling or go camping I use those plastic throwaway razors, and they do a decent job.
I do not recall giving my son much useful information on how to shave, other than to soap up the face and drag the razor over it. Not long afterward, as a Christmas gift we bought him an electric shaver and he was happy with that. Recently I decided to upgrade to a better razor, one that opens up by twisting a knob on the bottom. It makes it very easy to change blades and the improvement is incredible. I have been so excited about how well it works that I have been wanting to send him one, but he lives in a communist southeast Asian country where postal or delivery service isn’t a good choice. Up until the pandemic we could send him items with his associates that did business there that routinely traveled there and could carry items to him in their luggage. I wouldn’t call it smuggling, but they could take items that you wouldn’t want to try to deliver by some means in which the contents would be inspected and arouse suspicion, such as religious material.
That part of the world brings to mind a movie starring Robin Williams, “Good Morning Vietnam”. Robin Williams plays the role of one that reads the daily briefs over the radio and in one scene he advises them to shave after dousing their razor in cold water. I often think about that when I dip my razor into my shaving cup, should I use hot or cold water? I always use hot with the idea it will dissolve the soap buildup. I think of that movie scene and remember back in 1968 or so when a fellow student left school to join the military to fight the war in Viet Nam. He left a clean shaved young man and came back looking unkempt, bearded, unshaven. He wasn’t the same person, he was heavy-hearted and looked at me and said that “this war isn’t right”, he never explained that and I never asked what he meant. I had been gung-ho for that war effort up until that time, but that began to change.
Years before that when I was in high school I often hung around on a neighborhood corner at nights with a bunch of guys, watching the cars in the busy intersection and the flirting girls trying to get our attention. One of those fellows joined the military shortly after high school and was sent to Viet Nam. it wasn’t long after that when the word got around that he had been killed in a non-combat accident. Years later I looked up his name on the wall of the Viet Nam war memorial. I don’t know how to put certain feelings into words to say anything more about that.
I have relearned how to shave because of my new razor, I am much more conscious of the direction I shave, of turning the blade often and drying it off afterwards. Although I mostly watch in the mirror I’ve found that shaving under the nose above the lip is best done by closing my eyes and feeling the razor. I haven’t cut myself once with this new blade, something that happened weekly with the old one. Sometimes I’d have to pat my face with tissues to stop the bleeding. It was a mess, but I could handle it, I knew one guy that would faint over the sight of blood. The sight of blood, human blood especially, is precious. The shedding of blood has been essential in sacrificial ceremonies throughout history.
Christ shedding his blood isn’t about a shaving experience; it was a sacrificial shedding of blood resulting in his loss of life. It was a transaction that we are the benefactors of. The benefit was resurrection, we share in that victory over death because of Christ’s sacrifice and resurrection.
My son, who is living in a Southeast Asian communist country holding Christian fellowships in small gatherings, is there to communicate that good news. He has several boxes here at our home that he would like to have sent to him as there is no availability of such material there. If he had them there he would be sharing them with those who attend the gatherings that they have. These books are all on Christian topics and of an evangelical nature. They are not large books, smaller paperbacks and in new condition. They cannot be sent via any delivery service, they would have to be carried in someone’s luggage. If there is a response to this request (via JWR’s e-mail address), then details can be provided.
Once those books are there, yes, my son would be in danger of the regime. But that’s the game. It kind of gives me an idea of what it must’ve been like for God to have sent his son to deliver the Word to the world knowing that it would endanger his life, on a wholly different level of course.
I would like to reiterate that there is no availability of such reading material there. The eagerness to learn the English language is incentivized by their hunger to learn about Christ. If I had a way to get them there to him so that he would have Christian material to share with hungry souls I would also like to include a brand new razor for him, like mine.