April 25, 2020

Dear Hope Nation,

First, thanks for all the well wishes and concerns! My fever is gone, my soreness is gone, and only my spaciness remains—and that may just be my general condition. I’m really gratified at all the texts, phone calls and other messages I got inquring about my health. (I almost began the sentence that was to go here, “Especially in times like these,” then realized we are in unprecedented times—these times are sui generis–so that phrase must be thrown out. This trip across the Sea of During has no previous ship’s journal to appeal to.) In a time where we are atomized, it’s nice to feel the pull of the human organism. Thank you all.

I’ve been thinking about beards. I’ve also been thinking about recovery. Having the kind of mind that lives for metaphor, analogy and connection, I’m going to try to make a point.

A person wearing glasses

Description automatically generated

A major philosophical conundrum is the question, “When is a beard?” That is, at what point does not shaving facial hair result in a beard? This picture here is a man without a beard. The large amounts of smooth flesh beneath his eyeballs is the first tipoff, I know, but no one looking at this picture would ever say, “Yes, that’s the bearded man who stole my kitten!” (Given my well-known indifference to felines, no one would accuse even an unbearded me of cat burglary. But I digress.) Clearly, though, this man does not have hair on his face. He has no beard.

This thousand-mile-starer, though, clearly does have a beard (as well as a need to lighten up and stop trying to look like a Deep Thinker). This beard is not a great beard, or even a particularly good beard, but it is recognizable as a beard—“a growth of hair on the chin and lower cheeks of a man’s face.”

The philosophical question is at what point between picture number one and picture number two, can a man be said to have a beard? Does skipping shaving for one day result in a beard? Nope. Does a man who doesn’t shave for three days have a beard. Almost certainly not. What about 23 days without shaving? For most men, yes, but certainly not all men have beards within three or four weeks of not shaving. We have no objective yardstick for determining when a man has a beard, there is no point in the hirsute continuum marking the onset of beardiness. Ultimately, a man has a beard when he says he has a beard.

Thus it is with recovery. If a woman runs out of booze at 2:30 in the morning and doesn’t have anything to drink until midafternoon, can she be said to have been in recovery for 12 hours? Most people would say no, but it’s not for me to judge. What if a guy goes three weeks without using, dreaming all the while of his next chance to get high, then goes on a massive run? Was he in recovery? Again, not for me to judge. If you say you’re in recovery, as far as I’m concerned, you’re in recovery.

Just as with beards, some of the recovery I observe inspires awe while other recovery wouldn’t work for me. What matters, though, with beards and recovery, is that we allow each other to define their own progress, shape and grow their own process and not get into silly disputes over how full their beards or recovery are. My recovery may seem like Grizzly Adams to me, but strike you as a wispy soul patch. It’s still my recovery, just like your neckbeard is yours.

After all,

You matter. I matter. We matter.

Keith