Scarred For Life

13 December, 2013: A recurring nightmare. A school shooting, just before the first anniversary of the Newtown school shooting on 14 December, 2012. That internal  feeling of constriction mixed with a bit of nausea that emerges when horrified or profoundly saddened has returned. I was already a bit melancholy, as December 13th is the anniversary of my father’s death, and I still get a bit raw 13 years hence. Last year, the unspeakable tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary shook me to my core. Perhaps because I was already sad, but the school shooting ,(just next to where I used to live), left me pained. While sadness and horror seem to me to be an appropriate response to such tragedy, the manifestation of sadness and horror needs to be appropriate. I was overcome with emotion. I should have retreated to a quiet place to let my sadness and loss- -personal as well as generic–settle down. Sometimes we don’t realize that pushing through pain can exacerbate it, or even inflame scar tissue. This is true for emotional as well as physical pain.

I remember that evening all too clearly, as we tend to do with heightened emotional moments. My profound sadness became mixed up and misdirected at one of my kids, as scars from other incidents as a parent became inflamed. What ensued was a ridiculous and upsetting conversation, because of my being stuck. A scar was born. The upset from that conversation lingered for some time, but I was determined to have that lingering pain relieved and to let the scars heal.

From my earliest days as a parent, like many young parents of my generation, I was concerned that great upset would scar my kids for life. Of course, we had many great upsets over the years and my anxieties increased with each incident (or potential incident), thinking that these would stunt their growth or irreparably damage them.  After last year, when I let emotions get the best of me (and reveal the worst), (again–after so many years), I thought about how I must let my own scars heal and not impose my pain on others. I also began reconsidering scars.

I have a handful of scars on my body. They are physical manifestations of bodily trauma. As far as scars or physical disfigurement goes, they are mild now. I am lucky. I am a bit self conscious, but not terribly. I don’t like them, but I really don’t pay attention to them. This is good. My knee, back and neck have obvious surgical scars, but over time, they have become much less pronounced. They have flattened and smoothed over, and are no longer inflamed. Other external physical manifestations of earlier illnesses are so old, I rarely notice them. Sometimes the internal scar tissue from surgeries becomes so inflamed that I must treat it. But I don’t see it (other than on an x-ray). The scars heal. That doesn’t mean there is never pain, but when we let our scars heal, we can restore function and perhaps movement.

Emotional scars are the same. We need to not exacerbate them. They take time to calm down. If we let them, the inflammation and pain will subside. The notion that we would scar our kids for life was meant to suggest that being scarred was not only the result of a trauma, but that trauma would limit or permanently impair one’s life . But scars heal. They may reference an earlier pain, but with proper care and patience, and perhaps some correction, the wounds mend. Scars are for life. They are remnants, not the condition of being stuck. When we are scarred for life, we allow healing and growth–even stretching. Pain and suffering may be inevitable, but how we choose to live even with pain and with painful memories matters most.

The scars of mass shootings and all gun violence are still inflamed. If we are scarred for life, we can transform that pain toward a culture that does not accept the status quo with regard to gun violence. I am scarred FOR LIFE. The pain and memories of pain must inspire different responses going forward.

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