Thursday, September 5, 2013

Proud Flesh

When I was young my answer to, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" was always the same: a horse trainer. Oh, how I wanted to be a horse trainer. Or to simply be surrounded by horses for a living. I had no experience in the area, but I wanted to train horses and that was that.

Clearly, my career path has changed dramatically since then. The thing I've always loved about horses is the air that surrounds them--it's peaceful and powerful in a way that's just a bit frightening. Overwhelming, even. And horses are pretty damn perceptive. If you're pissed off, horses can tell. And they react accordingly.

But something else about them has captivated me for years: when a horse becomes wounded, the scar tissue that covers the wound is referred to as "proud flesh."

As in, you should be proud of the fact that your body was tragically cut open and then figured out how to heal itself. Because let's be honest: that's a pretty amazing thing.

Which leads me to a question with no real answer: why are we embarrassed by our scars, visible and invisible?

There's just something so beautifully tragic about the way a scar forms. We experience painful trauma, we bleed and suffer. Then, in time, we heal. Our bodies and minds patch up what was left open, almost miraculously.

But we're never left the same. We're blemished. Marked with some worldly force we weren't quick enough to stop as it barreled toward us at a high rate of speed. We're permanently blemished by our experiences, as though the universe has decided to brand us as a reminder of what we've done and where we've been.

I have plenty of "fool's scars"--falling off of a slippery bar in college left a small divot in my right shin. A small pock mark on the left side of my neck signals the former home of a pre-cancerous mole, thanks to my time spent baking in countless tanning beds as a vain teenage girl. Then there's a hole that will never heal, located just above my belly button--back when my college freshman self decided a piercing would be 'edgy.'

Each scar regrettable in its own way, they serve as reminders of the days when I didn't know better. Breadcrumbs that lead through a former life fraught with poor choices and naivety.

Back when I just wanted to dance on bars and have a great tan for prom pictures while shoving some pink sparkly piece of metal in my belly button. They are part of my story and I've been given scars so I don't forget all the idiotic places I've been.

But most major scars, like the 6-inch one spanning across my lower stomach, aren't the result of childish behavior. They're the result of living. Of choices and burdens. And circumstances beyond our control. I chose major surgery in the hopes of healing a broken body and survived--but still broken. My scar healed long ago, but I still get to walk around with it, tucked neatly underneath my clothing like a concealed weapon tucked into my pants. It's a symbol. A tattoo. And it means something to me.

We don't all have external scars to match our internal scars, unfortunately*. But we all get internal scars--experiences that no one can see unless we choose to reveal them.

That's what is so captivating to me about a scar: it means something. It marks a moment in time, an experience that was so powerful and overwhelming that it literally left a mark on your body. It means you survived, really. It's beautiful and it's yours. No one else has one like it.

Embrace it. Wear it like a badge of honor. And stop dwelling on the idyllic time before it existed; you were much less interesting back then. Take it from the girl with the divot in her shin.

*Not a typo. Honestly, life is so much easier when you have a physical scar to match an internal one.

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