Tuesday, April 25, 2023

A Story of Scars

Our bodies replace about 1% of our cells every day. Some say all of your cells are replaced every seven years. While this isn’t really true, it suggests that our bodies are constantly dying and regrowing. We become someone new a little bit at a time, every day.

What is a scar? From my perspective, it is the body recovering from damage. Something happens, cells die, and are replaced, sometimes different than they were before. Some trauma is significant enough that it leaves a mark. A place where you might be tougher, skin thicker, as the result of an accident. You might be more or less sensitive.

These marks, this change, isn't always external. We've got these in our brains, in our spirits, in our hearts.

I might argue that as we age, we become nothing but scars. We accumulate so much damage, from accidents, pain, catastrophe -- what else is there to us? Every cell in my body has died and been replaced more than once, with each new generation perhaps learning from, responding to what came before. 

My life comes from these scars, and my life is marked by them. 

I have one on my left elbow, barely visible now, the remainder and reminder of being hit by a car twenty years ago. Traumatic, and at the time, one of the worst things that had happened to me. In hindsight, I got off pretty easy.

I have some scarring on my neck, both external and internal, a reminder of the radiation that saved my life even as it destroyed parts of me, changing me forever. I look at that part of my neck every day. No beard grows there. I can recall how long it was just a wet, infected wound, and how worried the doctors were. I feel how the internal scarring continues to change my voice. Every time I turn my head to the left, I feel the damaged muscles strain and tighten.  

I treat it as a series of prompts and reminders: Life is precious. You are still here. Make the most of it. Do something. Be happy.

That’s not all. Like many people my age, I have tattoos. I was the first person I knew to get one, back in 1990. At the time, it seemed transgressive, and "rock and roll". A tattoo is just a self-inflicted, ink-filled scar. I have three now, each one marking different times in my life, when I was different person or with different priorities. They don’t hurt on their own, but I can remember getting each one, the person I was then, and how that person was hurting in different ways.

I am not sure if I will get another tattoo, but I am sure I will end up with more scars. Because I plan to live more, to have more lessons learned, more things to remember.

The author, recovering from being hit by a car, circa 2002.