When I was young, we had a wood burning stove inside our house. It was one of those that protruded from the wall with a step up from the floor. There was an open area of the hearth on either side. Even though we lived in Arizona, it still was chilly during winter mornings and nights. One of our favorite games to play was to run up to the stove, turn so our butts were facing the stove, and stand as close as we could until our butts and the back of our legs were roasting. Then we would run and sit as quickly as possible on the couch so that heat gave us a nice little flash burn. What? Some kids eat paint chips. We tried to see how close we could get to fire without getting third degree burns.
My little sister and I always took our baths at night. Cool temps and wet hair do not a comfortable situation make. Once we were done with our baths, we would race from the bathroom wrapped in our towels – no streaking allowed – to stand on either side of the stove. We would then proceed to rotate like a hot dog on those convenience store rollers – to make sure to distribute the heat evenly. One evening we ran our usual race to the stove which was stupid because there were two sides to the stove and only two of us. We didn’t have to race; we were both going to “win”. On this particular evening, I must not have been paying attention or was super cold and misjudged the heat and the efficiency of my towel coverage. I had no sooner stood next to the stove to bask in the warmth when I heard a sizzle and felt an instantaneous shot of pain. My right thigh had not only slid out from underneath my towel but also got a liiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiitttttle too close to the stove. I jumped back and looked. Sure enough, there was a perfect line of skin that had been burned off.
I didn’t want to get in trouble so I never said anything to my parents. Falling in accordance with children’s logic, I believed that if I left it alone and just forgot about it it would go away.
It took awhile to go away, but it did heal. The only thing was that it left a weird white line of scar on my leg. What was really funny was that as I grew, the scar changed it’s position on my leg and progressively moved towards my hip. It was a constant reminder to be very cautious around that stupid stove.
So, at this point, you may be asking yourself why I’ve just made you read a random memory about a careless moment from my childhood. Recently, I had a conversation with someone I love very much who has been going through a tough time. There have been some major things that have happened to this individual. The recent struggles, truthfully, would completely crush the average person. As I listened, all I could think of was there was no way I could have made it. When discussing a particularly heartbreaking event, this beautiful person asked, “How do you get over something like that?” At the time, I did not have an answer but just offered a listening ear and a shoulder to lean on.
Since then, that question has been looping through my mind -“How do you get over something like that?” It made me reflect on some major obstacles in my life that I’ve overcome. Man, they sucked. I had moments when I really didn’t know if I would make it. There were things that happened that changed me but I don’t think I ever “got over” them. However, I don’t think we are supposed to. I don’t think we suffer a heartbreak, work through sorrow, and then move on like nothing ever happened. Heartbreak, trials, death, betrayals – those things leave a mark…but that’s okay.
I have lots of scars on my body. Besides the line from the stove, there’s the one from when I fell off my bike and tried to make gravel angels with my knee, the one on my forehead when I tried to head butt the fender of a moving pickup truck, and the one on my lower abdomen where they had to retrieve my breech-positioned son. I also have scars that you can’t see. Ones that reside within my heart and mind. There’s the one from when a childhood friend died of cancer, another from when my parents divorced, ones from numerous heartbreaks and lost loved ones. No matter where the scars may be, I need them. I need them to remind me of where I’ve been. One of my favorite quotes is from the book Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls. She had a scar that she hated and was a little embarrassed by it but her husband “said it was interesting. He used the word ‘textured’. He said ‘smooth’ is boring but ‘textured’ was interesting, and the scar meant that I was stronger than whatever had tried to hurt me” (1). I need scars to remind me that I am stronger than I think I am.
Scars are kind of cool. You see, when we get cut, or burned, or whatever, our body forms new layer to fix the wound. That new protective layer becomes a scar. “That new scar tissue will have a different texture and quality than the surrounding tissue” (2). So think of that question again – “How do you get over something like that?” When something truly horrible happens to us, we get a new protective layer. Sometimes that layer is self-produced. Sometimes that layer is produced through the love of others. It doesn’t matter how it is produced what matters is that IT IS THERE. Just like any other wound, when it’s fresh, it’s hard to see how it will ever be healed. It’s hard to know exactly what to do to treat it. What do I put on it? Should I just ignore? If I don’t pick at it it will go away, right?
Here’s the deal though, you can help to aid the healing process. When I burned my hip, I never told my mom. I really should have. Luck must’ve been on my side because it could have gotten all nasty and infected. Not only would that have lengthened my healing time but could have caused more damage along the way. My problem? I’m a teensy bit stubborn. (Everyone who knows me well just rolled their eyes and that slight understatement.) I don’t like asking for help. When you are hurt, don’t rely solely on a self-generated protective layer. Turn to someone to help you build a protective layer. Let them help. Don’t let your wound cause more damage along the way because you are ignoring it in hopes it will just go away. Once a protective layer is in place, build it up and rely on it. And, when the scar is formed, own it. You were stronger than what tried to hurt you. Because of that, you have another layer of texture and another layer of quality. Smooth is boring and texture is interesting.
When you find yourself lost and questioning, just remember: you don’t get over something. You throw on that protective layer and let that something get over you. You will not be the same. There’s nothing wrong with that. You’ve become upgraded…
- Walls, Jeanette. GLASS CASTLE: a memoir. S.l.: SCRIBNER, 2005.
- “Scars and Your Skin”. WebMD. http://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/scars