On the right side of her chest just below the clavicle, she has a 1” scar. 12 years ago, it was a freshly stitched incision and beneath it, bulging and unnatural, was a port with tubes twisting into the dark depths of her insides.
She was diagnosed over Christmas break during her freshman year. Against her will, she took the spring semester off. I was a sophomore at the time. I got a note from her in the mail scribbled on construction paper in blue crayon. I can’t remember what it said, but I knew she was bored. We never wrote letters to each other. My sister wanted dorm rooms and late night pizza, not her childhood bedroom and home cooked meals.
Bi-weekly chemotherapy took its toll–the port served as an entry point for the toxic chemicals that were supposed to save her life. She rested, read, prayed. My parents did their best, which was more than enough. We lopped off her thinning hair sometime shortly after her birthday in late January; just before that, she had dyed it purple. My mom, I think, was unhappy, but, “it was going to fall out anyway.” When we got down to the last of it, mom took over. We all watched silently as she made firm but tender passes with the clippers. She did the job right. She made sure my sister knew that she was still beautiful.
I remember accompanying her to the doctor one day for treatment. My friend Paul came with and, like any good big brother and his friend would, we made loud, dry-heaving noises to encourage the vomiting that always came with the drugs. “Thanks,” she said. “I’m glad someone is having fun.” We took her home a few hours later and my dad met us at the car. She, fragile but fighting, insisted on walking under her own strength. His hand remained at the small of her back anyway, ready to steady her should she fall.
Later that afternoon, she slept in my dad’s green armchair and I stared at her scar, the awkward bulge beneath it, and I wondered if any of it was working. I wondered if it would all go away.
We’ve just heard the stories again, and I’m thinking about his scars. When I meditate on the scene, I see the unfinished wood resting on his shoulder, splinters sticking out of his skin. Dozens of gashes beneath his hairline from a crown of thorns. Sweat, dirt and tears. A woman with a fresh cloth gently wipes his blood and their spit from his face. Countless stumbles and three falls, and a powerful man, hoisting him with one arm and the wood with the other. The long end of the cross drags behind him, a dusty wake marking his long path up the hill.
There is no repose at the top. Nailed down and raised as a criminal, he hangs on for a while. His head finally slumps, and they let him down into the arms of a weeping woman, silent men surrounding her with fear in their eyes. I leave him there, holes in his hands and feet, a puncture wound between his ribs. They say he’s coming back, but I can see the marks they left. He will never be the same. We humiliated him. We hurt him. Even if he were raised from the dead, no one will know him in the same way again. He will bear these scars forever. I wonder if it was worth it. I wonder if we feel safer now that he’s gone.
We are all marked, scarred by life. I have my own 1” scar, just below the first knuckle on my left thumb. The result of a razor-sharp, fire-engine red press-on nail at a Mardi Gras party. I have another scar on my right index finger, crescent shaped, the result of an attempt to open a beer bottle on a trailer hitch. A small piece of glass is floating around in there, nothing as serious as a chemo-port or a crucifixion, but still another reminder of an old wound. And there are dozens more – scars everywhere.
They will never leave us. They remind us of the moments that we might want to forget. They tell our stories of survival, all the close calls and bad decisions, the heartbreak and the struggle, the pain, the fear, the hopelessness. We’re still here. Beat up in our own ways, but ready for more life and more love.
Even in resurrection his scars remain. They are a reminder that suffering is a part of life. We don’t make it out unscathed. But, in his suffering and in his love, our own wounds become more bearable. They become linked with the divine. They become holy and his love becomes real. His scars mark a pathway for us to follow – to reach out and touch them, to know that he is God, to know that he was really with them and his reality remains with us. His scars remind us not only of his suffering but of his healing love.
My sister’s scar is still there. The port was taken out 11 years ago, and it hasn’t been needed since. She’s got a second baby on the way. New life keeps marching on, scars and all.