If you’ve gotten this far without being wounded by life, you’ve been incredibly fortunate. Along the way, for most of us, there have been lost jobs and lost friendships, times of grief, betrayals by somebody we trusted, and things we greatly wish we had not said or done. We heal, but we are not the same.
Our bodies have a remarkable ability to repair wounds. Our surface, once damaged by injury, heals and regains its integrity, but leaves some sort of scar. We try to minimize it. There are lots of products to apply to the skin, hoping to eradicate our imperfections. There are lots of commercials for clean-up companies who come to your house after a fire or flood, to make it “like it never even happened”. As if. Not that we forget; but somehow, it seems like a good idea to look as if we had rolled back time.
But that doesn’t work so well for the human spirit. The experience of a lost relationship continues to matter, even after we have moved on and made a good new life. The time for rage and tears may be long past, but the loss has transformed our hopes and expectations, and hopefully taught us something useful we would not have otherwise known. We would rather not emerge embittered by life’s disappointments, but not forgetful either; hopefully awakened, more mindful of who we are and what we deserve. There is no need for shame in bearing scars. We are survivors.
Maybe we worry about the appearance of scars because we fear they blow our cover. Even the fine lines on our face are considered evidence against the status quo, carefully documented by people who sell cosmetics: our once acceptable façade is now supposedly ruined. Scars imply, sometimes in a very public way, that our life journey has had its rough moments and perhaps its disasters.
Accepting our scars is not a public confession that all has not gone well; scars are signs that the universe is capable of healing. It would be a shame to overlook them.
New Orleans will not polish the places where the levees breached during Hurricane Katrina; nobody will make them unrecognizeable and pretty. Instead, they will be pointed out to grandchildren yet unborn. The levees have been patched and reinforced, and the city continues to heal itself; its scars are part of the urban landscape. In this experience, some wisdom for our daily lives is lurking.
Possible lesion 1): Pretty and memorable are not the same thing. This bears a lot of repeating.
Possible lesson 2): Adversity teaches us to search for comfort where we would not have thought to look. Getting lost in an unfamiliar place may be embarrassing, but it gets you off the tourist circuit, where the hidden treasures are found. A wounded spirit can lead us to appreciate a cup of tea, or gentleness in the universe where it could easily be overlooked.
Possible lesson 3): Self image is informed by how we look for ourselves. Becoming scarred is an invitation to find a new mirror. For some reason, we seem most likely to find new and more interesting ways of perceiving, only when the old familiar ways are no longer bearable. Scars invite us to look deeper, where unfamiliar gifts await.
Possible lesson 4): The wounds and obstacles that leave scars also force us to use imagination, as we regroup. The olive tree’s wood has a lovely and distinctive twisting grain; it comes from the tree’s adaptation to survive in its rocky, dry terrain. A gnarled, asymmetrical olive tree is not a failure of nature, but a success.
Possible lesson 5): Our scars are evidence that we have triumphed over something significant. We did not choose our suffering, but we cease to be a victim of circumstance when we choose to incorporate our scars in the life we compose. This may require a radical shift of thinking.
To look openly where we once averted our eyes, and to find strange beauty in unexpected places, is to become artists of our own lives.