A scar is forming across the upper right corner of my chest, just beneath my clavicle.
Six days ago, a surgeon sliced an opening there just large enough to pull out a vascular port — a little gem of modern medicine that I had surgically implanted in March of 2020. For some 20 months it’s been living inside me, piping chemotherapy drugs into my bloodstream as safely and as efficiently as possible. But it’s been well over a year since my last round of chemo, and the risk of this foreign object causing an infection had begun to outweigh any potential need.
It’s not a scar that will last forever. Surgical glue and excellent stitching and all that. But I promise you that I’ll always be able to slide my left hand across that particular spot on the right, and know, for certain, that something was once there.
There was a news story recently about a young woman who’d finished treatment for Hodgkins’ Lymphoma and had her port removed. School picture day came around and the scar was still clearly visible. This was not bothersome for her at all, but, and perhaps with the best of intentions, a photo editor “touched up” her photo to make the scar invisible. This did not set well with Allison. For her, the scar was testament to survival. She had no desire to cover it up, to hide it — she wore it proudly.
Scars bear witness to where we have been. What we have known or experienced or lived through. They are sacred. And they matter. Because they say, “This happened. And I will never be exactly the same because of it.”
This happened. And I will never be exactly the same because of it.
Y’all. Things have happened. And we are never going to be the same because of it.
Especially these last two years.
Businesses have closed and schools have shifted and churches are not quite as full. We’ve lost loved ones to virus and violence both. Modern-day tribal warfare, born of political posturing and manipulation, has torn jagged wounds across our communities, our families, our relationships. Financial instability is, in many places, the rule rather than any random exception. And we have missed out on more rituals, more traditions, more things-that-make-us-who-we-are than I could even begin to name.
It’s grief upon grief upon grief.
And y’all, grief changes you. It pours into your soul, winds its way through your very being and changes you. And because of this, it has to be named. Faced. Sometimes wrestled with like Jacob and God and sometimes just sat with like Mary Magdalene in the garden, wondering how the sun could possibly be rising when her heart hurt so badly.
Grief is not linear. It rises and falls and switches back and snarls into deadlock and makes hard turns into darkness. It molds us, for better or for worse, into a different version of ourselves.
If we’re very, very lucky–or in the care of a very fine grief counselor at least–it has the capacity to soften our edges, widen our hearts, make us more loving and kind. It also has the capacity to consume us. And, one thing is for sure, it cannot, no matter how much we’d like to believe otherwise, be controlled. It can rear its head in the most unlikely moments, leaving us feeling broken all over again. Raw. Vulnerable. Afraid.
My great fear for all of us these days is that in our rush to “get back to normal,” (after pandemic, after political chaos, after constant violence–none of which is actually going away) we’ve failed to name the enormous collective grief that is, I believe, threatening to destroy us.
There is no going back. There is no editing out the scars etched across our lives, our communities, our country. There is no forgetting what has been so that we can just move on. There is no controlling all that we find unpleasant so that we can build some sort of fantasy life of safety and perfection.
There is no going back.
Remember that scene in Good Will Hunting where Robin Williams tells Matt Damon it’s not his fault? And Damon is all, “Yea I know.” And Williams is like, “No. Hear me again. It’s not your fault,” and Damon’s all “I know!” and Williams says it again, “It’s not your fault,” …and again…and again…until finally Damon hears him and collapses under the weight of this heartbreaking and freeing truth.
There is no going back. There is no going back. There is no going back.
Everything has changed.
And we should probably just collapse under the weight of this heartbreaking and freeing truth. Because it is only going to be in falling to our knees that we will find the strength to rise again.
Last night, in a blast of worry about someone I love very much, I let anxiety get the better of me — and, for me, that meant trying to control, trying to contain, trying to script something that was so much bigger than me and the moment.
Spoiler alert: This does not work. Zero stars. Do not recommend.
What I should have done is simply said, “This is grief. And it is awful. And there is nothing to do but name it. Let it be. Until we can see the other side of it.”
Y’all we cannot contain what has happed to us. We can only name it. Sit with it. Let it be. Until we see the other side.
And the thing is? And I swear to you I stake my life on this: There will be the other side.
There is no going back. But there will be the other side. The space between is terrifying and sad. But there will be the other side.
There will be the other side.