I have a new scar. A new, physical scar. I’ve got four now, from four different surgeries but most people will ever only see one: the newest one. They’ll see it because it’s on my neck. Nodules on thyroids will make that happen. Anyway, I’m physically fine now, a week out from surgery. The pain has almost entirely disappeared and, mentally, I’m one heck of a lot better than I was days before surgery, back when the slightest wrong phrase from a doctor could have had me picking out my own funeral dress. Cancer is a word unlike any you have ever known, in its unbelievable power to create ridiculous fear. Since I’m totally choosing to believe that I have nothing to worry about now that the doctor cut it out, I’m much happier and much more like Tiffini again. I haven’t told a single flower in over a week “I love you”, and strangers don’t have to worry about me trying to steal a hug if they should smile in my general direction now. I don’t feel such an intense need to apologize for taking up space in friends’ lives before it’s “too late” either. Time seems to be moving normally again too. Dying has been taken off the agenda. Again. But. About a dozen times a day, my hand travels to the scar on my neck. It rests over it for a moment before my fingers unconsciously trace the bumpy, rough, short line. Then my palm flattens over it again for a moment, before I seem to catch myself and pull my hand away.
Scars have occupied a corner of my thoughts for awhile now. Every time my hand searches for the new, physical one, my mind thinks about the emotional ones. The vast array of obstacles I’ve met alone, and my heart grows momentarily heavy. I’ve spent the last eight years learning how to talk about scars, how to stop hiding them, how to give voice to them, believing that in so doing, not only do I heal but others do as well. The fear fades too. Confidence that is more genuine than ever before starts to shimmer. And, strangely, even though I talk and write about it all now, I don’t think as much privately about those sad things. I am simply too busy with the girls, with teaching, and I have come to accept that they are a part of who I am and focusing on them won’t change that. Being alone makes it easier to forget some of it too because there are no longer any expectations or needs. So I don’t really spend a lot of time contemplating the source of many of my scars. A few, though… A few scars were burned into my being so closely I have not been able to write or speak about them. Only a select group of trusted friends and family know about these events. It’s like they never existed because I don’t allow myself to think of them, or to talk of them. Their scars, though, remain and sometimes I catch myself looking for them with a wandering hand or in the unexplained tears that sometimes come as I soak in my bath. I don’t want to talk of them, I don’t want to think of them… But neither do I want to forget them. Forgetting would be like saying the loss of something was acceptable, that I didn’t really care or love as much as I had thought I did. Forgetting scares the bejesus out of me. When I start to panic, start to feel a little lost, I rummage around until I can feel the scars, because they ground me. They remind me of all I’ve ever held dear–innocence, faith, children, family, peace–remind me of how I became Tiffini.
The other night was my first night back to teaching since the surgery. I had a class of ten four and five year olds. A few of the children in my class have had me several times by now and know me well. They all were very curious about my scar. One little girl was upset because she said I didn’t sound normal. Several wanted to know if it hurt. I had talked to these children before the surgery about it. I had told them about my “bumpy, sick butterfly-like thyroid.”. We had all felt our thyroids. I had warned them that the next time they saw me, I’d have a cut on my neck and would probably sound a little different. I’d told them. It wasn’t a real surprise. But the scar made it real. Hearing about something is different than seeing it. Hearing about something is different than feeling it. They’d probably all had forgotten about my telling them I was going to be different, but they probably will remember next week that I have a scar, because they’ve seen it now. Similarly, I won’t forget all I’ve seen, felt and experienced because those moments shaped the very core part of who I am. I wouldn’t give so many hugs if I hadn’t known what it was like to miss them. I wouldn’t love children so deeply if I didn’t clearly understand how fleeting a childhood is. I wouldn’t appreciate every second of every day if I hadn’t been taught, time and again, that I can die, people can leave, and without warning. I wouldn’t love strangers if I hadn’t been so lonely that a stranger’s random act of ordinary kindness could transform my life. I wouldn’t know how to believe in a sweet and loving God if I’d never needed to ask Him to hold my hand. I don’t know how I would have been able to recognize how many incredible blessings had been bestowed upon me if I had never been so hungry for hope that the unspeakable tortures of the Holocaust reminded me I was lucky. I’d not have known the healing of writing without knowing pain. Cancer would be growing in me now if I didn’t have my scar. See? For every loss, there’s been a direct blossoming flower. The scars and smiles are intertwined, one begets the other.
I don’t thrive off pain. But I have learned that if the storm is headed my way, I don’t have to run from it. If it knocks me down, I’ll stand back up. If it burns everything in my world to pieces and I have to start over again, then I should pay closer attention to the world, as my beacon of hope is likely to come in an unexpected form. I want to be pretty just like everyone else does. I’d love to be the princess one day, I’m not going to lie. It makes me a little more self conscious to see others talk to me while looking at the scar they have no intention of mentioning. But the prettiest face can mask a cut and bleeding heart and soul. I know because I was that chaotic and pained heart with the pretty, quiet face once. Scars aren’t pretty to look at sometimes but they carry the most important stories of all: ours.