Sunday, August 14, 2011

Wearing My Scars Out on My Sleeve

My 57-year-old body bears some scars. There is a large round one on the back of my left leg. My college boyfriend went through his motorcycle phase. I didn’t know much about riding motorcycles, including the fact that you should wear long pants to protect your skin from exhaust pipes that reach extreme temperatures. I can still remember how my skin actually seared to the pipe as it tore away from my left leg.

I also have a scar on the inside of my right forearm. Unfortunately, the location makes it look like an attempt at slitting my wrist. But it is actually what I call a love scar. The night before my daughter’s wedding, I offered to iron my future son-in-law’s shirt for the rehearsal dinner. A combination of excitement, exhaustion and trying to do a thousand things at once resulted in a nasty burn from the iron. As ugly as it appears, it always reminds me of my daughter’s wedding and how ironing Eric’s shirt was sort of a rite of passage. Silly, but to me it means something.
My most unfortunate scarring incident was caused by me, but left its mark on my daughter. She was about four years old and we were living in Salt Lake City. I noticed a spec of dirt in her eyebrow and unconsciously picked at it to clear her face. When she erupted into full-blown chicken pox two days later, I realized it wasn’t dirt after all. My daughter relishes telling the story whenever someone questions the still noticeable scar. It has become one of our family jokes.

My mother bore many scars on her arms and hands, some from her days working with hot solder at her electronics job. But most of them were oven burns. My mother loved to cook and bake, but somehow she never mastered the art of pulling pans in and out of the oven.
Scars are permanent and we are reminded of them each time we scan our bodies. But there are also internal scars and although we can’t see them, we shouldn’t forget how we got them, how we healed them and the lessons we learned. These scars are usually the result of a loss – a friend, a family member a lover. The injury that causes them is usually much more painful than that of a physical scar and it endures for a longer time. The most frustrating thing about internal scars is that they are so much more difficult to treat. You can’t apply aloe and a bandage and hope for the best. There is no steadfast treatment that works like a charm. You simply wade through the pain, one day at a time, waiting for it to subside.

As painful as the internal scars may be, we learn a lot about ourselves from them. Since they are inside, often on the heart, we do a lot of self-reflection as we attend to them. We grieve, we vow not to make the same mistakes in the future, we usually come out stronger on the other end. And as ugly as they may be, we become a better person because of them.
We sometimes forget about our internal scars, until a life event rattles our cage and the painful memories come flooding back. The trick to healing is to focus on the positive things you learned from the experience, rather than the pain itself.  We need those reminders to nurture our relationships, to keep them healthy and scar free. I am planning to wear mine on my sleeve as a reminder to avoid pitfalls and focus on positive energy. I just have to figure out how to do it on sleeveless shirts.

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