In the bathtub tonight, I started thinking about my scars.
I have a scar on my left elbow, about half an inch long. It’s thin and silvery now, a scar you wouldn’t even notice if I didn’t point it out. I got it a long time ago – my freshman or sophomore year in high school – when our church youth group went on a whitewater rafting trip. We each got these big innertube rafts to float down the river in. I dove into the water and swam up into the center of my raft; as I broke the surface of the water I pushed my arms upward to grab the top of the innertube. Lucky me – the metal prong for filling the tube with air was missing its cap, so it scratched my elbow and left me with an indelible reminder of an otherwise unremarkable day. Every time I see it, I can see the exact shade of blue-gray that was in the sky that day, I can still hear the carefree laughter of my group of friends.
My left knee bears another mark I’ll never forget. It’s even older – it dates back to our time in Fort Hood, Texas. I was probably 10 or 11. Jason was playing soccer, and we had carpooled to one of his games with our next-door neighbors. The soccer players (Jason and JC) barrelled out of the minivan, heading toward their teammates. 5 year old Nathan pushed past me at the van door to follow his big brother, and I fell into the parking lot. Anyone else would have just gotten up, brushed it off, and never looked back. But I fell on the exact spot of the pavement where a tree root had pushed through, breaking the concrete into a jagged cliff. Now I have a two-inch long gash on my knee raised into a gnarled keloid. I’ll never forget the sights and sounds of that day, either.
Most of my scars are small. Insignificant. One perfect round circle left from the chickenpox when I was 12. Three tiny, hair-thin welts on my right thumb from our cat Linus’ kittenhood. They were small to begin with; they have faded over time.
I have a new scar. It feels big. Ugly. (I’m told that it’s actually “a beautiful incision site” and that it was sewn expertly and that it has healed perfectly according to expectation.) I’m torn… which is an interesting description for my feelings, considering the subject matter here. – I hate it. I hate to touch it; to feel the numb flesh just above the scar that reminds me of all the layers that had to be cut through. I hate the way my skin pulls toward it. I hate to imagine the way it will balloon out if I ever carry another child. On the other hand, I can’t deny it. It’s part of my story now; it’s the opening stanza of Susannah’s story. It brought her into my arms, for better or for worse.
Even though my surgical birth was not an “emergency c-section,” when I think about it – when I talk about it – the words that come to mind to describe what happen are harsh. “They cut me open,” I tell Chris, “and some stranger ripped my baby out of my body.” The surgeon was a nice woman. She was kind. But it was not supposed to be her job that day to pull my daughter out of my abdomen. It was supposed to be my job, my job to birth my Susannah into my own hands or the hands of her father. I was going to look into her eyes for the first time as she laid on my belly, warm and new and squishy. I was going to do things differently. Every time I see my scar, that’s what I think. It bears witness to all that went wrong that day.
And yet. Every scar starts with something going wrong. A rip, a tear, a gash – from a fall, a collision, a puncture, an incision. The scar, though, is proof that you survived it. You knit back together. You healed. I am going to run my fingers over the scars that have turned silvery and breathe deeply of the truth that this scar will fade in time. It will always bear witness to that day, but not solely to what went wrong – it will also stand as testament to my strength and resilience, as reminder of my capacity to heal.