scars are beautiful.

photo by Melissa O’Hearn- July 08 (prior to surgery)

scar 1
1. A mark left on the skin after a surface injury or wound has healed.
2. A lingering sign of damage or injury, either mental or physical: nightmares, anxiety, and other enduring scars of wartime experiences.
3. Botany A mark indicating a former attachment, as of a leaf to a stem.
4. A mark, such as a dent, resulting from use or contact.
v. scarred, scar·ring, scars
1. To mark with a scar.
2. To leave lasting signs of damage on: a wretched childhood that scarred his psyche.
1. To form a scar: The pustule healed and scarred.
2. To become scarred: delicate skin that scars easily.

Everyone is scarred in some way or another. Can’t get away from the fact that life brings opportunities for pain; physical and mental. Even prior to my mastectomy, my body was filled with scars that remind me of moments in time- the scar on my elbow of the time I flipped over the handlebars of my big sister’s 10 speed bike in my sassy turquoise swimsuit on the way to the swimming hole at Newman Lake; there’s a half inch line near my knee from an unfortunate shaving accident when I was sixteen; I have a funny mark near my shoulder from the time I walked up too close to the face of an unknown horse on a dare from a friend. I could go on. Life hurts sometimes, and it’s what we learn from the experiences and how we settle into the rest of our lives with the marks left as memory that matters.  

I believe that if we don’t tend to our big hurts or share the stories that belong to the large wounds in our lives, we are at risk of losing an important part of our identity. The essential task is to allow our scars or our wounds to be seen from time to time- to acknowledge that they exist and to believe that we’re still whole and beautiful despite them. And then, in time, the scars soften and become less apparent. We may even forget about them on occasion, only to be jolted into awareness upon a glance in the mirror (this is all too familiar to me) or by looking at an image from prior to the injury.

We are metaphorical scars from the moment we are literally cut from our mothers, leaving a stub of umbilical cord that eventually dies off like a scab, forming our bellybuttons. We enter the world, for the most part, bright red, gasping for breath, possibly screaming and seeking the comfort of the womb from which we just left. Into our adulthood, human beings are often searching for a way to be seen, heard, and understood. In the best of circumstances, we are nurtured and cared for, gently tended from oozing into a full blown disaster. And eventually, we work into our adulthood as manifestations of our past. We might continue to fester, or we might begin the trajectory of softening. Either way, the paths we take or the course of events in our lives inform the way in which we show up in the world. We could be jagged and angry, barely visible, or we could be a recognizable symbol of what we hope to represent in the world.

Our scars, emotional and physical, are what make us uniquely us. And this is what makes us more beautiful. Flawlessness does not exist, and thank God for that. The yoga studio where I study and teach often reminds students that “we are perfect and whole exactly as we are”- regardless of and including our scars, challenges, limitations, and emotional status. I don’t know about the perfection part, because I think perfection is overrated. But in the large scheme of things, who am I to say that imperfection can’t be the new perfection? “Perfect” can be large enough to hold it all; scars and all.

These fragments I have shored against my ruins–
The cosmos works by harmony of tensions, like the lyre and bow
And so it was I entered the broken world
Turning shadow into transient beauty–
Once upon a time, we knew the world from birth

The INTERSTICES of Terry Tempest Williams from Finding Beauty in a Broken World and T.S. Elliot “The Wasteland”

beautiful shards

What to expect tomorrow…dreadfully early morning for surgical placement of the port followed by recovery, meeting with the oncologist, and then my very first chemo infusion. I know it won’t be nearly as bad as I envision, and that there won’t be a skull and crossbones on the bag that holds the chemo drugs, but I can’t help but feel resistant. Who came up with the idea of infusing chemicals into people that are meant to create free radicals that seek and destroy cells? It goes against what I know about health- but, then again, getting a cancer diagnosis tends to make one re-think everything they may have thought they “knew” about health.

This week we went to hear Terry Tempest-Williams speak and read from her new book Finding Beauty in a Broken World. I resonate with the idea that creativity can spark healing, and that finding a way to re-build something beautiful from that which has been broken is not only possible, but necessary in order to find meaning. My experience since receiving the diagnosis of cancer has been filled with ripping apart and loss, and yet there have been incredible moments in which I have found fragments that I intend to save for an incredible life mosaic when I need it down the road. Really, in the large context of this insane world, my little cancer experience is nothing. Losing little pieces of myself only create room for shiny new fragments of soul to shine through. Who knows- maybe chemo will be a blessing in the mosaic of my life.