Monday, November 12, 2012
Blessings...behind the scars
Every day I try to look for little blessings....little moments of gratitude in the ordinariness of life. When faced with physical challenges or differences however, it can often be very tempting to focus on the negative aspect of our scars. We tend to perceive these things as limitations, imperfections, and deeply personal flaws. Most of the time these things certainly don't feel like blessings at all. And while the dance of cursing and embracing our physical differences is an ever-evolving process (one which we fine-tune as we become hopefully more and more accepting) we know that it IS an ongoing, oddly choreographed interpersonal dance. It's one that we'd rather not take the lead in....but we have to.
Most of us can attest that children can be wonderfully adept in pointing out physical differences. They blurt out what they are thinking because they have not yet developed the pleasantry filter which most of us adults operate out of. (For most of us parents, these are the moments where we cover our faces and apologize to the unfortunate recipient of the comment!) Children can also be good examples however, in helping us to move beyond these differences. Their fleeting attention just does not remain focused on anything for too long...something is noticed and voiced, then they're off to chasing the next butterfly that flutters along.
When I recall the moment I'd learned that I would need a "limb preserving" tissue-transfer (something called a free flap) on my lower leg....the experience was filled with mixed emotion. The complex, comminuted fracture of my tibia which I'd suffered was severe enough to cause extensive soft-tissue damage, requiring a plastic surgeon to move a 13 inch long segment of skin from a "donor site" on my thigh to cover the area on my lower limb which was becoming necrotic. I did not have a choice....have the surgery, or sadly, lose that part of the limb. Fully acknowledging that this measure was being done to save my leg, for some reason I still had difficulty knowing that my appearance would be disfigured. While I had some fear that the procedure would not be successful (as can be the case at times), I also grieved (and still grieve) the fact that my leg will never look "normal" again. And while I was grateful that the procedure was successful--it saved my limb, I knew deeply that my reality had changed. Not only did my leg not function in the same way, it also looked different, and would now be the object of many stares and questions.
As is frequently the case with life's unique issues, children often do not hesitate in frankly probing into life's often uncomfortable quirkiness. One morning several months into my healing journey, my six year old daughter (who was born with a significant bilateral cleft lip and palate) climbed into bed with me and asked if she could touch the freeflap on my leg. "Sure Jade..." I said, "you can touch it, but I won't feel anything. That area, and the area that the doctors took the skin from on my thigh are totally numb...I have no feeling there." "Really?? Can you feel this?" she asked. "No" I said. "What about this?" "No...I can't feel that either" I said. "Hey...." Jade exclaimed, "Maybe we can play a game....you close your eyes, and I'll touch your leg somewhere, and you tell me if you feel it or not?!" We continued to chuckle and laugh as we chatted about the silliness of the appearance, yet the importance of the function of our scars. Eventually this little ritual evolved into a game that we call "Now you feel it, now you don't."
As I smile and ponder the questions which naturally arose from my daughter's inquisitiveness, I am grateful for her innocent curiosity and willingness to risk reaching out and connecting over something so basic, vulnerable and raw. I could have said, "No Jade, I would rather that you didn't...I'm kind of embarrassed..." but that would have kept us from connecting in a way that would also be embracing of her scars and felt imperfections. It became an opportunity for deep, magical connection and shared growth....a sacred moment.
The real human game of "Now you feel it, now you don't" is something that we all experience in our dance with emotional vulnerability. Often I think that we "grown-ups" are afraid to take the risk of reaching out to others because we are fearful that folks are somehow too fragile. Sometimes, we are. We are also afraid that people just might close the door on our attempts at connection...this can reinforce or feeling of isolation. However, we need to take those risks or we will never know if that magical, holy connection is even possible. Of course, we can dance around the "real" stuff with all sorts of pleasantries and avoid the kind of stuff which might expose our physical or emotional scars. But unless we are willing to take the risk of going there...to those emotionally risky, raw, and potentially embarrassing places....we will continue to live with a felt inadequacy in who we are. We deserve more.
I wish there was some magical way we could snap our fingers and all suddenly feel okay....despite our various physical and emotional scars. But just as my daughter will continue to have to answer questions about her cleft by other curious children on the bus (they are there... I cannot shield her from those questions), and I will continually need to endure folks' curious glances at my oddities of my leg, I know that the best way to be present in this world of ours is to take the risk of reaching out--to know that we are not alone.
We all have these places within ourselves where deep, meaningful connection is possible. Sometimes, we just need a little help in getting there......
....and just as I am in the process of accepting my own physical differences, I am comforted by knowing that I am not alone. My resilient little now-seven-year-old has helped me to begin embracing my own unique self. I relish that magic of connection....I want to continue the dance....the dance of pure, imperfect, sacred imperfection.
We are here to share in all of our humanity, (even the undesirable stuff) because that is where the magic happens.
Posted by Chris P-M at 11:20 AM