Saturday, August 10, 2013

Battle Scars

“The soldier, above all other people, prays for peace, for he must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war.” General Douglas MacArthur

My wife and I spent the last week on vacation at Cape Cod. It’s impossible for me to walk their wonderful beaches without thinking about the classic movie Jaws. There also was the ever-present reminder at every beach entrance:

No wonder I kept thinking, "We're gonna need a bigger boat."

One of my favorite scenes from the original Jaws is when the shark hunters are killing time on their boat by comparing battle scars. click here for the scene. It’s the old salty dog, Captain Quint, who takes the prize with the tale of his wartime tragedy of being thrown into shark infested waters. After pointing to the tattoo on his arm of the USS Indianapolis, Quint tells of how he and fellow shipmates had to fend off the dark eyed monsters of the deep (this actual true story is profoundly tragic and heroic click here) . When he has finished, his current shipmates are in silent awe until the good Captain breaks out in song, to be joined by the eager Mr. Hooper, and the seasoned Chief Brody.

Like many cancer survivors, I have my own battle scars. I have the seam running down my chest from thoracic surgery to remove the tumor. I can also point out body parts that were altered. I even have the tattoos that mark me as a member of the radiation club (these permanent ink marks are used to accurately aim the radiation beam to prevent unnecessary tissue damage). I have to confess that there are times when I see these as badges of honor; reminders of a journey into the dark night of my illness, and the emergence back into the light. I also feel a kinship with other survivors, whose bodies have similarly been imprinted with the telltale marks of their being tossed into the uncertain waters of a life-altering illness.

I find, however, that the urge to tell the story associated with these body alterations, fades with every passing year. Retelling the tale gives glory to something that, I find, is better off left in the dusty corners of memory. The, “My scars are deeper than your scars,” contest is one where the winners are often left with a shallow victory.

Regardless of their appeal, stories about the dramatic events in our lives are still only that; stories. As narratives, they seem to give meaning and a sense of coherence to otherwise random and painful events. The danger lies in confusing the story of what happened to us with who we really are; the ever present, one life that is untouched by the scrapes and bruises of a bodily existence. To drop the identification with an illness, a tragic circumstance, or suffering opens one up to experience the fullness of Life. Or, to put it in terms that would appeal to Captain Quint, “You ain’t your head, you ain’t your tale, you’re the whole damn thing."

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