The wound is where the light enters you
We sat and I watched the scar fly back and forth, back and forth. Wildly gesticulating, its triangular shape, from end to end across the heart line of the palm, it shimmered and swayed in the noon light. A thickened line, a point of tension with every movement. The palm would shut and it would disappear, and then with a sweep of excitement, it would flurry across my line of sight. It would sit there forever as a reminder of a childhood misdemeanour. A child’s eager curiosity gone wrong. A baby’s hand met a hot iron. An accident. And to heal it, the doctors stole away a small piece of skin from elsewhere, with a corresponding scar, and reattached it to the hand. Transplanted. Changed. Forever connecting two parts of the one person, twice seen. Twice the story told.
We all have scars. Some of them we can see. Some of them sit below our clothes where only those we trust dearly will ever see. We are all so curious about where they came from. A physical difference begs the question, “what happened to you?”
I have a scar on my left knee. It’s big and ugly. Late one Tuesday evening the winter when I was nineteen, I tripped and fell over. I know it was a Tuesday because I was heading across from my university campus to the eating district for a snack after debating practice. Debating practice was always on Tuesday. And I know it was winter because it was cold and raining. Raining heavily, and I didn’t have an umbrella. But I was hungry and needed something. I was exhausted; it’d already been a long week and it was only Tuesday. I was wearing a new pair of boots. Winter ones. But the soles were thin and flat; there was no grip to speak of. And so, on a bridge of pebbles soaked with rain and a pair of shoes with no grip, hurrying and trying not to get too wet, I lost my footing. My hands were grazed and my knee bloodied. I had thick stockings on. I’d only gotten them that season and the fall tore a little hole in their woollen fabric. My first thought was “ouch” followed closely by concern that I’d already ruined new stockings and disappointment in my winter boots for being so dysfunctional in the winter. I blamed those boots and wore them only once or twice again. They found a new and much happier home with a good friend, someone less clumsy on their feet on rainy days than me. How it happened isn’t that interesting. But the healing process was long and surprisingly painful. I couldn’t get the remnants of stocking out of my knee and the skin took many months to heal. Every time I took a step, the scab would rip open again. And so, even in the spring and summer, I had a nasty wound exposed to the world. For months people would ask, “what have you done?”
But most of our scars sit where no-one could see no matter how hard they looked. They sit in our schoolyard, where it wasn’t a stretch from one monkeybar to the next that we missed but instead a game of foursquare with people we thought were our friends. It wasn’t our nose we broke falling from a height but our heart that was broken by the game we never had. It’s all those opportunities at work we never took for fear of failure; it’s the loss when we staked our hopes on something doomed to fail. It’s those nights where our hearts are split into a million pieces and there’s no one around to help us pick them all up. These are the scars that shape us.
I carry little scars for every patient I’ve lost. The ones I know didn’t want to die; the ones who suffered so slowly waiting for gates to open before them. I carry little scars for the friendships lost due to time or circumstance. For the people who were something meaningful and disappear one day without a word. I carry the scars that we all do for the person we thought we would be but seemingly we will never become. Because even though we heal from our hurts, we are changed by those experiences.
Our scars make us who we are. We suffer, we cry and grieve, but quietly in our own space. We beat ourselves up and hide away the pain. We let people heal our incision wounds, the lacerations from breaking glasses while washing the dishes or removing an infected appendix, but we don’t tell people about our greatest emotional turmoil.
Why do we never tell these stories?
These are the scars that make us. These are the stories we should show while wildly gesticulating in the afternoon sun. These are the lessons that life teaches. Whether it takes three days, three years or three decades to heal, these are the experiences that make us grow. Our light can only be judged by the depth of our darkness. And our beauty is in our imperfection.
This is the scar tissue that I wish you saw.
And, as a final note, a quote I read at the Getty Museum yesterday:
I have a chance to meet,
there is so much I want to ask
and so much I want to tell.
- Otsuka Chino