Every time I wear a dress, someone asks about the scar on my knee. It’s a pretty good one, as far as scars go, spreading across my left kneecap with little dots where the stitches used to be.
I had three knee surgeries in high school for—what we didn’t know at the time was— a benign tumor.(Don’t worry—the medical talk stops here because #squeamish). Anyway, all you need to know is that I’m totally fine, I got to wear hot pink bandages, and the doctor assured me the scar would be gone within a year.
It’s still here. But oddly, I love that scar. It represents the awkward eleventh grader who had to sit on the sidelines of marching practice with the most uncool “injury” of all time. (I was already in marching band, so I’m being very serious when I emphasize my steadily-increasing level of uncool.) It reminds me of the self-conscious girl who’d cover the healing yet unfading scar with a fresh Band-Aid each morning. And oddly, I love that girl, too.
Now, after getting over the fact that my kneecap will never be cute (I mean. It truly had potential.), I mostly have forgotten about the scar until someone else points it out. When they do, I love to tell a good battle wound story. However, there are things that I’m afraid someone will notice that I’m less proud of—wounds that will take longer to become scars, brokenness that may never become whole. I hide them with my own Band-Aids of “I’m fine, you?” and “Oh, good. Busy, but good.”
I was once sitting on a place next to a woman in her mid-thirties. She had a designer purse and blonde locks, both of which I envied. She asked where I was headed.
“Florida,” I said. “Disney World. You?”
“New York,” she said. “Rehab.”
She didn’t justify, just stated. There I was, sitting next to her in 12B, on a trip I’d planned with my brother, without him. I’d spent the day before—his birthday—at the cemetery, and I’d been unable to eat solid food for a few days. Yet, all she knew about me was EVERYTHING WAS GREAT AND I WAS HEADED FOR DISNEY WORLD. YIPEE!!
I was a jerk. A jerk who didn’t know what to say.
Seeing my surprised reaction, she explained that it was a good thing. She was relieved. The only bad part, she explained, was that she wasn’t allowed to bring her paintbrushes.
Her paintbrushes. I clung to this detail like a sentence from my own story. It was sacred.
She was going to rehab and she wanted to make art.
And while she could have easily just said she was going to New York, she was doing more than that. She was making beauty from broken. Better yet, she was giving me permission to do the same.
Although I don’t know her name, I think about my friend sitting in 12A a lot. I pray for her and wonder how she’s doing, but most of all, I dream about the day she returns home—whole and healed, paintbrush in hand. In this dream, a crowd of her closest people are celebrating, for they know what the paintbrush means. She will make art. She already has.
And then I think about who would be in the crowd at my own celebration.
If I say “I’m fine” and keep the scars-in-progress hidden, would anyone be there?
What if hiding our broken places means withholding our best art?
Maybe we don’t have to shrink away when someone notices our brokenness.
Maybe we won’t have to be alone the first time we pick up a paintbrush.
We will make art. You already have.