Not many children make it through to adulthood without at least one or two scars to commemorate the journey. Skinned knees, elbows, chins, foreheads – broken arms and legs. It’s a rite of passage. But what about the scars you can’t see?
My son was goofing around with his friends waiting in line at the end of the last recess on the last day of school. He fell and split his chin open on the tarmac. He did a real bang up job. He’d been having a contest with his friends to see who could hold their breath longest, and he won by passing out. Yeah – as a mom I’m a little horrified by that. I asked him why he would do that. His eyes got all big, and with complete sincerity he said, “Because I wanted to win.”
The stitches had to stay in longer than normal because the wound was so deep. When my son would meet one of our adult male friends, they’d stoop to examine the injury and the conversation would go like this: “Woah – 5 stitches. That’s awesome.” *high five* My son would nod and smile. “I think I’m going to have a scar.” *fist bump*
Still shaking my head. Don’t encourage him! Hubs says it’s a guy thing. The boy is very proud of that scar and shows it off frequently like it’s a badge of honor not foolishness.
I’m accident prone. I’ve fallen down stairs, fallen down the up escalator, fallen out of trees, been hit by a car, hit by doors, walked into sign posts, fallen off my bike too many times to count, torn ligaments, broken toes, fractured bones, gotten stitches. I’ve locked my jaw open 3 times playing soccer. It’s remarkable I’m still alive, really. I have many scars, but the best one I got while petting my dog at my grandfather’s feet next to their huge cast-iron stove. “Don’t touch the stove,” my grandfather said from behind his newspaper. What do you think my 4year old self did? Yep. Touched the stove.
I sucked in a breath and held my wrist to my chest. My grandfather looked down at me over the top of his newspaper and spoke around the pipe in his mouth, “I told you not to touch it.” And he went back to reading. Lesson learned.
But not all scars are visible. Not all scars earn bragging rights.
In high school I didn’t date much. Well, OK – I had one boyfriend for 2 months in grade 9. When I was 16, my best friend had a New Year’s Eve party and most of the teens there were drunk. I asked one of the hottest non-hockey-jocks at the party why no one ever wanted to date me. In a moment of drunken sincerity, he put his arm around me and said, “You’re not the kind of girl you date, you’re the kind of girl you marry.” He meant it as a compliment, I think, but at the time it felt like a slap in the face. It was a defining scar if not a damaging one.
A friend in high school had this story of driving with her dad when a car accident happened directly in front of them. The impact of the collision sent one of the passengers face first into their windshield, and the man died staring at her. That haunted her. She would hardly ever speak of it, and when she did her face drained of color and her eyes glazed over. She hated being in a car after that.
A young man in my high school, a couple of years ahead of me, hung himself in a field just outside the village inside a broken fence line. I remember being taken to the spot where he’d died and shown the bucket he’d kicked out from under his feet – it was still there – as though it was an altar of some kind. Kids would go and just stare at the bucket, no one ever removed it. His death left a scar on the entire community.
Abuse, neglect, abandonment, bullying, depression, hunger, failure… These are the scars you can’t see, and often are the ones that cut the deepest. People would laugh and shake their heads when I showed up with an arm in a sling, or on crutches – again. But when I took off the sling, put away the crutches, I could move on. But these other scars, we work so hard to hide them, to live as though they don’t affect us – but they do.
It’s only when we expose our scars to the light, stop denying they exist, that we can heal. Stuff happened, it sucked, it wasn’t fair, but you’re left with a choice to either let it make you stronger or be crippled by it. The choice is yours.
I think of the many survivors of the concentration camps from World War 2. There aren’t many still living, but of the ones willing to talk about those experiences they shake their fist at those who wonder how you move on after an experience like that. ‘We will not forget,’ they say. ‘We will remember what happened, remember those who died.’ They exposed their scars to the world, in order to prevent it from happening to anyone else.
What about you? Do you have a scar that’s earned you bragging rights? Is there a scar you’ve exposed in order to help others?
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“It would be different if one had tried to tell the whole truth. That would have some value.” – Ernest Hemingway
“A woman is like a teabag – you never know how strong she is until you put her in hot water.” Eleanor Roosevelt