One of the scariest things a newspaper columnist can do is update his photograph.
Each week, folks stop by my little corner of the written world and see what I have to say. When you stop and read, you’ll notice the photograph that appears with it. It makes you think that must be how I looked. And it is how I looked, however many years ago that picture was taken.
I once worked at a newspaper in Virginia that ran a column by the evangelist, the Rev. Billy Graham. For reasons I never understood, a picture of Graham from about 40 years prior appeared with his column each week, making him look young when his age said he wasn’t.
Time changes us all. When I worked from home during my COVID-19 quarantine in December, my thoughtful wife said it seemed silly for me to shave my face when I wouldn’t be seeing anyone for a while. (I’ll make no comment on if she continued to shave in the ways society expects women to become artificially smooth.)
I’ve always liked beards. I grew my first one when I went off to college at 18, just to see if I could. It was beautiful, with a surprising amount of red in it for someone with fairly dark hair at the time. Since then, I’ve had facial hair more often than I didn’t. Usually some big change in life makes me want to shave it off and start life fresh-faced again, whether it was a break-up when I was single or the introduction of a new child to the family.
I’d actually grown a beard about two years ago too, without ever updating the previous photo that accompanied my columns, which was taken four years ago. I only kept it a few months, though, as the amount of gray and white in it really hurt my self-esteem. I’ve had gray hairs since my mid-20s, and the gray won the fight on top of my head by my mid-30s.
Frankly, there was a lot less white in the beard back then. There’s been a change in me, though, where I’m spending a lot less time in my mid-40s worrying about how things used to be and a lot more time thinking about how they could be.
In my quest to trim some fat off my frame, I’ve started exercising daily and running again for the first time in 25 years. It was pretty disheartening at first. I wasn’t exactly an athlete, but I lettered in several sports teams in high school, including running the mile- and two-mile races in track.
In fact, my best time in the mile was around five and a half minutes. Now, as I step onto the treadmill, I’m lucky to go half a mile in twice that time.
It does no good to look back at youth and compare it to your present situation. Twenty-five years of laziness got me here. A few weeks of good intentions won’t get me back.
No, the only good comparison is to how you did the last time you did it. If I don’t do better than I did yesterday, then I need to try harder. If I improve every day, eventually I’ll hit whatever measure of success I choose. I just have to be patient and work for it.
So yes, my new column mug might make me look a little older than you remember. That’s OK because it reflects a man accepting his current realities and working to be better on the things he can change. That’s how you can tell it’s a life worth living.