A man in Afghanistan once said to me, “No scars, no story, no life.” Sometimes, the best story is in the space between the words—a space that is a window onto a different way of seeing. And when there are no easy answers, stories are all we have.
-James Orbinski, An Imperfect Offering
Oftentimes when people ask me a question, I find myself answering them with a story about my life. Ask me what I think about forging one’s own paths, and I may tell you the story about how I somewhat ran away from Corsica to Paris and stowed away with friends studying abroad there. Wonder out loud about how we can’t buy as many things with our money as we used to, and I’ll probably share the ‘Amazing Race’ type 6-day trip into Morocco that cost my travel companions and I less than $300. Ask me about my faith and I will share any number of stories of how I have seen God’s providence and miracles transform my very world. It is easier sometimes for a story to speak for me. The ways in which I can vividly recall an event forms a picture that gives the answers that will not or cannot form in any other way.
Today while I was standing waiting for a tro-tro with my friend Emma, he saw me picking at a small scar forming between two fingers on my left hand and he commented that I would have many stories to share when I return home at the end of this week. I have my share of scars. Some are very tiny and others are more noticeable. They come in all shapes and sizes, and even feel differently. Some are physical and others cannot be seen. What they all have in common though, is they contain within their marks a story about my life, just as Emma noted. They are one of the ‘space between the words’ as Orbinski describes it. Scars are a different way of seeing things, remembering things, and oftentimes we go out of our way to get rid of them or to cover them up. But using a laser to get rid of a scar does not mean its effects are no longer there just because no one can visibly see it anymore.
When I was seven I got attacked by my neighbor’s dog and received thirty-two stitches. That’s a lot of stitches for anyone, but especially when you are that young. I used to be very conscious of those scars. I would hate to wear tank tops or wear a swimsuit. I didn’t like being asked where they came from over and over again. I refused to let the multiple scars from the attack be the space between the words of my story in which people could learn something from me that the words failed to convey. Years later, though, I don’t mind wearing tank tops or swimsuits and sometimes offer the story of the attack myself before someone can ask about the scars. In time I found that my scars helped to tell unspoken stories of courage and self-confidence in my life. The event had permanently changed me. Donald Miller mentions in one of his books that there are many moments that hurt in the present, but we will love it in some way, shape, or form later. Scars remind us that change is a natural part of life. Rarely do you receive a scar and not change even in the smallest of ways, even if that change is simply physical. Scars also remind us that the type of living that makes us truly feel alive means taking chances and fully examining life’s mysteries and opportunities. When we put ourselves out there, damage can be done. But I truly believe that there are no scars too big that will not fade given some time. To me, the best stories are the ones that leave their mark on me.
It makes me recall what the man sitting next to me on my flight to Ghana said to me about how I would be making enough impact if I was simply willing to go and share in the stories of others. For a while I would step inside their shoes and walk around their life, appreciating and better understanding the scars of their life. Life hits us all in very real ways whether we care for it to or not. I believe that it is only when we fully embrace the scars of change—beautiful in their markings—that we can begin to see the depth of who we are as the scars begin to fade.