For most of my life I have thought about the relationship of wounds and scars, living with my own– and knowing that the scars do last, maybe not forever, but at least for the years of this life.
When I was 20, I had a bike accident, and severed my Achilles tendon. It was pretty awful. A continent away from my parents, I was taken to a local hospital, and sewn back together by a general surgeon. He did his best, but I have often wondered what someone else with more specialized skills might have done. The first cast he put on was wrong, and a few days later he had to redo it. And for someone like me who had always hated needles—ever since starting a crying-riot as a four-year old in the polio vaccine clinic in Davis, CA –I remember longing for the next shot of morphine.
After three months of my cast, from hip to toe as it was, I tried to walk again, and couldn’t. I spent the next four months learning to walk again, surprised at how conscious I had to be to make my feet and legs work together. Many years later now, most of my ankle and foot are still numb. I can walk, swim, and bike, but not much more. The scars are still visible, up my ankle and around, with my Achilles tendon about three times as big on my left foot as on my right.
The wound has healed, but the scar is still there—and whenever it is touched, by me or someone else, I remember.
Given the nature of my work, I have often thought of this reality as I have talked with people, living as all of us do in a very broken world. Wounded we are, all of us, and scarred we are, all of us—and none of that is entirely metaphorical. Sometimes the wounds are visible, like my Achilles tendon scar, and sometimes they are more hidden—but either way, most of the time most of us don’t know that about each other. For lots of reasons, we keep our wounds to ourselves.
On Saturday, I spoke at Laity Lodge on “Making Peace with the Proximate.” The question implicit in this is not new for me. For a long time now, I have been thinking about the reality of the now-but-not yet nature of life, realizing that we have to “make peace” with some healing, even if in this life we will not have a full healing, a complete healing of all the hurts and wounds that are ours—and that run across the whole of life, from the most personal of our relationships to the most public of our responsibilities.
It is a hard truth, but an honest truth. When I finished my talk, Buddy Greene and Jeff Taylor, the artists-in-residence for the retreat, came up and did a rousing, even if lamenting version of Bob Dylan’s “Everything is Broken.” It seemed exactly right—even as we hold on with all our hearts to the hope that honest healing is possible, even in this life. Something is always better than nothing. I have been able to walk for most of life, and for that I am still grateful for the 20th-century with its medical insights, for the general surgeon who did experimental surgery on my Achilles tendon, and for my foot which mostly works, even if mostly numb.
I am still making peace with the proximate.
And the wise words about wounds and scars? From that distinguished moral philosopher and Western novelist, Louis L’Amour, whose story, Jubal Sackett, I am reading. You can’t always read Walker Percy, George MacDonald, Alexander Dumas, George Eliot and Larry McMurtry—the others whose stories we have been reading and hearing on our trip –and so every summer I choose another adventure by L’Amour to teach me about the most important things of life.
Yes, and yes again. “The wounds had healed, but the scars would be mine forever.”
(Photo of the Rio Frio Canyon in the Hill Country of Texas, home to the Laity Lodge.)