The details are a problem. Spare yourself the details. No good comes from the details.
Except, perhaps, when they help you free-up your life and recognize the grand experiment offered all of us: the opportunity to remake ourselves by caring less about those same selves.
OK. You’re still reading? You really want to know the details?
Here they are.
I am in the middle of the crusty stage. Never heard the phrase? Here is the proper placement of this particular life plateau:
- Middle age
- Crusty stage
- Old age
The crustiness is not the kind in a good piece of French bread. The temporary condition finds your face dry, red, and raw: the expected side-effect of a dermatologist’s handiwork to keep the skin on top of its game. Not cosmetic, but medical. A good outcome is predicted. I’ll be out of the crusty stage soon.
The story improves from here, although I must relate a few more details.
Better yet, I’m going to tell you what I learned by passing through this small period of discomfort; and what you might learn, too.
The procedure left my face painful, slightly swollen, and itchy for some days: a bit mask-like. The treated skin gradually flaked off and the rosy, sunburned toastiness faded. Lots of moisturizer and other unguents made my presence shiny. I was a beacon of reflected light in the half-dark.
I considered exposing you to a picture of myself in, what I can only call, the “full crusty.” I may be shameless, but I decided not to inflict this on you. Should you be grateful, just send a donation to your favorite charity.
The question was, while I was fully into this fullness – unable to put a good face on things, Halloween-ready two months too soon – “What am I going to do with my visage?” Several possibilities presented themselves. I could …
- hide, kind of like The Elephant Man.
- curse the hearing-impaired, indifferent gods.
- concentrate on the pain of the first couple of days.
- observe it.
- obsess about the slowness of the healing process.
- petition the authorities to make Halloween earlier, in which case I’d be able to save on a costume.
- shroud the mirrors in my home.
- focus on how I was getting better and better.
- ignore the condition and occupy my mind elsewhere.
- count myself grateful compared to those worse off.
- worry what others might think if they saw me.
I could learn from it.
Notice how many ways we can make ourselves miserable. Instead, I decided to treat my face as the subject of an experiment.
The first two days offered restrictions: stay out of the sun lest I become some version of Dracula in the daylight. On Day Four, however, my kids, son-in-law, and grandson visited. The adults were slightly unsettled, the two-year-old took my appearance in stride. I was still grandpa.
Day Five offered the real experimental possibility. My semi-annual dental exam gave me the chance to create some high-pitched screaming in public (not mine). Then I needed to pick up new glasses, where the patrons at Lenscrafters would scan me through their own fresh pair and surely say, “This can’t be right. I liked my vision better before. Refund please!”
In the event, only the dental assistant noticed, the dentist and office staff treating me as they always do. This either means that my regular appearance was already brutal, or they absorbed the big picture of me being me, kind of like my grandson. I vote for the second possibility.
Next stop was to pick up my glasses. Again, no crowds ran shrieking into the parking lot once I stepped into the mall. No fists were raised, no refunds requested. The experiment ended much as I expected: attention was not paid. If my countenance had grabbed some eyes? No matter. Well, OK, being chased by a shouting, torch-bearing mob would have been trouble. Fortunately, the Boy Scout in me brought earplugs.
Buddhists talk of “non-self.” No soul. Nothing permanent. They state that a belief in a “self” is one of the causes of suffering. This turns the “Me, me, me” of the West’s competitive juggernaut on its head.
I could have said this turns the view of what is important in life on its face. If you have no face, no self, you have no face to lose.
Western philosophy and people like Martin Heidegger put the problem differently: we are beings for whom “being” is a question. If we think about our being, including the impression we make, self-awareness is a challenge, something our animal friends are free of.
We are far too preoccupied with our “selves.” Some say self-awareness is a disease. Or can be.
Worried about others laughing at you?
Life will laugh at you. The universe will laugh at you. Count on it.
Take it from a man in the crusty stage of life.
The top photo, Breads, is the work ofThe second image is called Two Papier-mache Masks in the NYC Village Halloween Parade, authorized for posting on Wikimedia Commons by parade director Jeanne Fleming. The 1916 German scouting manual, “Allzeit bereit,” was made available to Wikimedia Commons by Mediatus.