I once heard the expression, “scars are tattoos with better stories.” At this point and time in my life, that is something that I have come to both believe and embrace. I have a scar of my own- a thin, straight, fifteen and a quarter-inch scar that traces the path of my spine from my lower neck and ends just above my hips. Scoliosis, a condition which left me crooked and ultimately forced to undergo an eight-hour spinal fusion at NYU Hospital less than one month after graduating college.
I think of many things on those mornings when I accidentally catch the reflection of my scar in bathroom mirrors, or when I catch the eyes of a stranger curiously spotting the top five inches unable to hide underneath tank tops in the summer. I remember the hospital room overlooking the East River and the chair that sat in the corner of the room for visitors to sit. Only I didn’t want to see anyone. Yet, somehow when I saw you sitting in that chair smiling at me that Wednesday morning, I was glad you had come.
You had stopped by on your way home from Sloan-Kettering where you had received your daily chemo treatment. You sat in that chair smiling at me as I managed to smile in return. Due to the medication, I don’t remember much from that day but I do remember showing you my scar, and then you told me about one of your own. Your skin was always highly decorated. Bright ink in rich colors showing a Japanese dragon, a phoenix rising from the ash, your family crest, a sacred heart and many others. But among your many tattoos was the one of the lotus flower on your ankle, located just above the tumor that you had felt one afternoon embedded in bone. For quite some time in between the leaves and colors that made up the lotus was a thin, pink scar. It cut through the tattoo almost like a fault line running through a desert. You told me of the surgeon who operated on your ankle and spent an extra hour carefully stitching so as not to ruin one of your beloved tattoos. I thought of the patience and kindness of the surgeon; the humility he had shown in taking care of something that had meant so much to you. There must have been a hundred stories behind that scar, but that one always stood out to me because underneath all of the pain and discomfort that creates a scar, there is almost always a story of someone trying to make it that much better for you.
So when I think of my scar and the stories behind it ultimately becoming a part of who I am, my favorite story is how you visited me on a day when you surely were not feeling your best. But you did make it that much better for me. And those memories of kindness and compassion lingered long after the pain that I felt had faded, and even after you were gone. I believe that scars are tattoos with better stories, and when it comes to my scar, you will always be my favorite story.