Our Scars | Hope for a Time of HealingPatient Experience
by Chaplain Bernie Jorn | Mar 31, 2018
I was eight years old, using my new pocketknife exactly the way my dad taught me not to. The knife slipped and I cut my left hand, resulting in my very first set of stitches. Nearly 50 years later I still look at a small moon-shaped scar and recall the lessons I learned that day—the results of disregarding advice, the experience of pain, the power of loving care and trust in the midst of fear. These lessons have stayed with me through many scars since.
We all have our bumps and bruises, scrapes and scars. They come in a variety of forms, as do the stories of how each of them came to be. Most scars leave only a clouded memory of the pain, but occasionally one points to a deeper wound, perhaps not so easily forgotten. I have such a scar myself, on the back of my neck from a surgery after I broke it. This was about 40 years ago, and I still haven’t fully come to terms with it. I never will. The question raised by these scars, however, is if we would rather they disappear, or if they serve a purpose in remaining there? I am not asking this lightly, nor suggesting that our injuries are blessings. Yet those times of pain, along with the tears and life-disruption they bring, are part of the greater story of who we are. Washington Irving wrote the following: “There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than words ever could. They are messengers of overwhelming grief and unspeakable love.”
Ironically, some of the deepest scars we carry come in the wake of that very thing—love. Love is powerful and we thrive on it from the moment of our birth. Yet when it is lost, unrequited or abused, we can be left with pain greater than any other. Not one of us will escape this, and some will have histories of many such wounds. But even in the worst of it, strength and wisdom can build as we move through the heartache and life continues to move us forward. I hate those experiences that knock me to my knees—they stink! But sooner or later hope can be found, if only by looking to past experiences that we somehow made it through. My grandfather often talked about his full and happy life, even to his final age of 93. Yet if you picked his brain, he could also give details about the Depression, two world wars, the growth-pains of many cultural changes, and the deaths of many people he loved. But always his thoughts would come back to the present and his fun of being with us.
Throughout our lives, we will have our injuries, those visible and those beneath the surface. Perhaps you are going through one now. Keep hope for a time of healing. Look to the scars from your past, and their evidence that wounds, even the deepest, can heal. Keep that same hope for our patients, as we watch them in their own grief and confusion about life. And as for our personal scars and imperfections—the things we don’t like when we look in the mirror—well, there is makeup and plastic surgery of all sorts. Or, perhaps we take the alternative and let our woundedness show. We are all “scarred” people, imperfect to ourselves in some way. But that is where our character and even our beauty can be found.
There is a tradition among the Amish people, that when making a quilt they purposely sew in an imperfection. It is a reminder that only God is perfect, and that we flawed and somewhat broken people are supposed to be this way. And I have never seen one of these quilts that wasn’t beautiful.
Chaplain Bernie Jorn