Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The tales of scars

I'm twenty-one, I think, and I'm balancing wobbily on a skateboard in my flip-flops, pointed straight downhill. I've never really ridden a skateboard downhill before this moment, but for some odd reason, today I want to impress the nine year-old brother of one of my friends. He's a skater kid, and I want to show him I can do it, too, even though to him I'm ancient. And I would have made it the whole way had I not faltered in a moment of insecurity at the end of the street. Down I went, colliding with concrete, a mere flick of the skateboard's wrist. I have the purple scar on my right ankle to prove it.

At twenty-one, I thought scars were kinda cool. At thirty, scars feel almost embarrassing, as if broadcasting to the world, "Hey, look, I'm never going to grow up." Scars also seem more like blemishes at this age, ironically, blatant imperfections, in a culture obsessed with flawless skin and bodies that aren't supposed to look their age. Somehow I imagine thirty year-old women shouldn't be getting scars from skateboards and road bike crashes and rollerblading and various outdoor adventures (work-related scars don't count, right?). But I guess I'm not what you'd call an average thirty year-old.

But of course, there are other types of scars, too.

The type that aren't visible to the naked eye. By the time we're thirty, we often have our fair share of them, each one telling a story we might not wish to share. Maybe we do our best to cover them up, put make-up over them, or maybe we proudly display them, pretend like they don't matter when deep down they're still a little tender. We all have scars. Childhood scars, teenage scars, adult scars, scars of every shape and size, some self-inflicted, some inflicted upon us by others, some inflicted by nature, by life itself.

Our maintenance guy at work today is talking about the scar on his hand. He got it from fixing our sink, and he says it has gotten him a lot of attention from the ladies. He sounds proud and looks at me a little bit mystified, like he possesses this deep secret of unlocking the hearts of women everywhere, and it's his scar. I kind of chuckle to myself, this six-foot-something of a guy in his forties with tattoos all around waving his scar around like a ten year-old boy. He says to my coworker and I, "I told my son that scars are evidence of a life well lived." And I think about that and nod my head slowly, ok, that's a little bit profound. The man's got a point.

I think the stories behind some scars are really dark, really achingly painful. Many times, those scars bear stories of some kind of injustice. Some scars tell stories of adventure, heroism, athleticism or lapses of it. Some scars bear witness of great endurance in the face of suffering, of tragedy, of loss, of broken hearts. The thing is, as with so many things in life, I'm discovering, any type of scar has the potential of telling a tale of victory. Of a life well lived. And I'm not talking well lived in the sense that mistakes haven't been made or injustices happened, but well lived like a pair of well worn hiking boots. Those boots have gone places. Those boots have seen life and gotten dirty and taken risks and made memories and been stretched to their limits and still refuse to be retired. That's what I think scars can say about us. We've experienced life - the beautiful and the ugly and the indifferent and everything else in between - and we've pressed on to become who we are today, to embrace what comes in life and pursue healing and learn from it, instead of living in regret or denial.

Perhaps scars are still cool, no matter what age we are.

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