On Scars and Their Stories

by the Rev. Martin Elfert

The scar runs up my forehead, starting just above my right eyebrow. Perhaps half an inch wide at the bottom, it narrows out to a thin line as it rises higher. If you were to look upon the scar in extreme close up, maybe in one of those “what is it?” photos that children’s magazines sometimes publish, you might take it for valley or even a canyon, proof for J. Tuzo Wilson’s theory of tectonic plates.

I have thought about making up stories about the scar. Of the many possibilities (motorcycle crash, explosion while battling super-villains, fall from a Jules Verne-esque hot air balloon) a fencing injury is my favourite fabrication. Sabers at dawn, a question of honor. But I keep coming back to the scar’s actual history. There is a weight in the truth.

In truth, the scar is the only thing that still can be seen – the legacy, if you like – of that disease which has nothing to do with keeping the rain out of your house. Shingles.

The shingles began as a red dot, “you are here” on a map. Over a few days, the dot engaged in gleeful reproduction, doubling itself and then tripling, spreading out until I began to look as though I had done spectacularly poorly in a fistfight, my right temple a passable representation of the rockier parts of mars. I understand that I am lucky that the pain was as mild as it was. I understand that I am lucky that my left my eye was untouched. Now, some six years later, the scar is all that is left. And I have surprised myself by coming to like it.

I don’t have tattoos. Not because I object to them. But simply because I have never been able to imagine an image or a message that I would want to look at in perpetuity. And, more than that, because life is putting enough marks on my body without seeking them out. There, on my shin, is the record of mountain biking in Banff in 1996. There, on my shoulder, are the old borders of a mole that looked worrisome. There, on my forearm, is the cautionary tale about power tools. There, on my eyebrow, is the meeting with the coffee table when I was four. And there on my forehead. There is the remembrance of shingles.

Evidence of pain and mistakes and misadventure, I guess. But even so.

These scars and I have become friends.

I suppose that curious friendship is why I was surprised, kind of shocked, even, when the doctor looked at the scar on my forehead last week and said, “I could get rid of that for you. I could reduce it to little more than a line.” It was his casualness that startled me. It was as though he were talking about knocking down a superfluous wall in a house, cutting down an old tree, painting over the misguided colors on the walls of a bedroom.

But that’s my scar that you’re talking about.

I said no. No thank you, doctor. And I realized that I have come to love each of these scars. They are my stories, the tattoos that this beautiful life has given me. They are records, not just of pain, but also of blessings. Outward and visible signs.

There will be more.

Martin Elfert serves as a priest at the Episcopal Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist in Spokane, WA, where he has the privilege of crafting worship for and with children. His advice column, “Father Knows Best,” appears Tuesdays on Spokanefavs.com and, nationally, on religionnews.com. Martin lives in Spokane with his wife, their three children, and their long-haired miniature dachshund, Baudelaire.

Eyeball image is from here.

2 thoughts on “On Scars and Their Stories

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