Every morning, I shave, just like every other sad lad in the Army. But unlike every other sad lad in the Army, I shave with a safety razor.
Don’t let the name fool you. A safety razor is a hammer head device with two incredibly sharp blades at either end, and if you’re not extremely attentive, you’re bound to nick your skin – if not outright slice it. It so happens that this very fact is a compelling one in my decision to shave as I do. I enjoy a good challenge.
I am a morning person, one of those “the sun’s awake, so I’m awake!” kind of people (no, this is not a veiled Frozen reference). Granted, in Bavaria this time of year, there isn’t much sun to be had, but I’m still up and at ’em with the first peal of my alarm (we won’t see the sun again until March, but after three iterations of six months of total darkness, I’ve got it figured out). I’m also the kind of guy who likes to set just one alarm for the latest moment possible to facilitate my timely arrival to the workplace – a blade runner of sorts, if you please. I haven’t been late to work in years, but sometimes (increasingly), I have to change from my street clothes into uniform with a quickness before the morning formation. I keep my two worlds separate, and it’s worth the price of a few minutes more at work. Plus, it’s another thrill. I thrive on cheap thrills.
Being a morning person, however, does not guarantee a smooth shave. A smooth shave is the product of a myriad of factors – the brush, the soap, the steady hand – but most important is a steady and attentive mind. This mind likes to wander. Last Friday, I found myself thinking about one of my Troops driving back from a training mission, but only after I sliced a very fine line the length of a blade into my neck – vertical. This past Monday, I nicked a fine line about a centimeter in length just above my cheek bone – horizontal; I was thinking about another Troop’s participation in an international soldiering competition that morning. I am responsible for resourcing five Troops on a daily basis, both planner and executor; these Troops are ever on my mind. And, well, the styptic pencil was created for just such circumstances. Men, If you don’t own one, I highly recommend them. I definitely own three.
My soldiers and peers alike poke fun at me for my practice – attacked by a feral cat again? And I’ll joke along with them, silently swearing to outdo myself tomorrow, and vocally endeavoring to sell them on the merits of my chosen shave (it is one of the closest shaves you can get, and you get to use a shave brush for something other than cleaning the star chamber of your rifle!). It’s almost cyclical at this point. We’re ramping up for a major movement (my bread and butter) and I’m starting to slide back into my multitasking mindset, so I’m not surprised. I could be an emergency dispatcher in L.A., and I could wet shave, but I don’t think I’d be wise to attempt both enterprises together… not until I master the ability to dwell in the present moment. This environment I’m in provides the perfect training grounds.
This pursuit of the present moment is precisely why I apply a razor sharp blade to my face five minutes after I stir from my slumbers. It’s why I haven’t bought a disposable razor in years – well, that, and safety razor blades are about 8000% less expensive than Gillette Fusion blades, and they last longer too. It’s also a personal challenge to shake myself awake, without the aid of stimulants of any kind. It’s a personal challenge to still my restless mind – a goal I generally only attain while running or playing the piano. To initiate either of these exercises is to step onto a well-trod path, but one which demands an active mind rather than allowing a passive mind: they are meditative turns inward. This is the state I seek to achieve with my morning shaving ritual – active mind, focused mind. It’s also a state I seek to achieve in my writing, surrounded as I am by a myriad of distractions of my own devise. The end game is to apply this mindfulness meditation to everyday acts, every day.
I won’t always be a soldier, and for that, I am infinitely grateful – but I will always carry with me the signs and symptoms of a youth spent soldiering, the most salient of them being a magnification of my natural proclivity for extremes. I’m working on reining it in, or at least on planning wisely with appropriate gear for the enterprise. I must say though, I do enjoy my scars, scattered across my face and body by a young adulthood spent pursuing greater and greater heights and depths. They’re proof that I’ve tried to outperform myself – and the day I stop doing that is the day I start withering away.
Let that day never come.
PS: I didn’t cut myself today!