Divot in shin—knife drop, Easter Saturday, 2010. Forehead pockmark—head-butt on bathtub faucet, 1969. Knee “freckles”—torn meniscus, soccer game, 2012… I could go on and ON. My body is full of scars and imperfections. I’m guessing you might have a few, too.
We typically look at these kinds of marks on our bodies as flaws or eyesores. After all, they rarely, if ever, add beauty to a person’s body, right? Stretch marks anyone? But what if we considered them not as imperfections, but brushstrokes that come together to help create the work of art that we are?
In a way, each mark that we acquire through our lives is a mark of our journey. They may not necessarily “represent” anything in particular, but they are a part of us. Maybe if we cast a kinder eye on those scars we would be better able to see them as an essential part of ourselves.
You don’t get through life unscathed.
And what about the scars below the skin—the ones that we carry on our hearts? Maybe your heart is marked with the death of a loved one. Maybe there are rejections you’ve suffered in love, work, or friendship. Maybe you’ve gone through a trauma that you have yet to give voice to. Maybe you have been treated unfairly or abused. Maybe you’re battling an illness. Maybe you’ve failed in some capacity. Maybe many or all of these things have touched you in some way.
These kinds of hurts definitely leave their mark. Some much deeper than others, but a mark nonetheless. And while it is critical to work toward healing in every way we can, we will never be able to bring the heart back to what it was before the scar.
We are forever changed.
But what if we also look at these scars as brushstrokes on the canvas of our lives? Each mark helping to form who we are? Though this perspective doesn’t take away the pain of the “heart scar,” it may help us to see that there is meaning within it.
I know some of my heart scars have equipped me to be a better person. I’m using the term “better” here in a relative sense—as in what I believe is important. Compassion and empathy are important to me, and my heart scars have led me to be more compassionate and empathetic.
Of course, hindsight helps me understand this. For example, my dad died of cancer when I was 21. Obviously, that is a major heart scar with many facets to it—some obvious and some not so obvious. But I had no idea when I was going through it how many times I would be able to be there for a friend who was going through the loss of a loved one or battling cancer. Simply being there with some firsthand understanding ended up being of some comfort to several people in my life since then, and I am grateful for that. It means that the loss of my dad and the pain that is left behind from it in some way served a purpose. The heart scar has meaning.
And since we know we won’t get through life unscathed—either physically or emotionally—it helps to recognize that those brushstrokes are helping us become works of art even through the pain.
At least it helps to know for me.
In my mind’s eye, when I stand back and see how my “brushstrokes” are coming together, I see the work in progress that I am. I see how many things, when observed in isolation—can only be seen as ugly or painful—but with some perspective, are essential to the creation of the work as a whole.
Though some days my life canvas looks like something painted by Pollock or Picasso when I’d prefer Degas or Hopper, it is a work of art nonetheless. And that work of art is me.
I wonder what challenging brushstrokes you’ve been through…and what does your painting look like?