Monday, October 30, 2023

When Beauty Meets Heartache


I’ve had battle scars on my left hand and arm for as long as I can remember. It started as a kid when I fell on some ice and scraped my elbow so badly the scar has remained for decades. Injuries progressed to high school when I cut my thumb in half on a table saw. Years later, a knife pierced completely through my hand in a cooking accident. Oddly, the stories go on and on.


Then cancer came.


Doctors had to cut a 5-inch by 1-inch area to remove melanoma from the backside of my forearm. A doctor even said it would “disfigure” me. (Little did that young surgeon know what my future held—cancer that ate at my spine—OR what true disfiguration entails.) They also removed a lymph node from my armpit, leaving another decent scar. 


All on my left side.


A New Age friend said, “This isn’t coincidence. Every injury we have holds meaning. The left arm and hand...,” she paused, flipping through a book. “That means you should stop being a doormat. Learn to stand up for yourself.”


“Wow! Don’t sugarcoat it for me,” I said sarcastically and laughed. 


And as much as I try being proud of my scars and my experiences, over the years, I’ve been embarrassed by them too. My thumb, for example, has some serious issues, and people used to ask me about it all the time after watching me fiddle. My left hand would grace the fingerboard during “Orange Blossom Special,” and then the questions would come.


“So… what happened… to your…”


“To my thumb?” I’d finally help them. “Tablesaw. Highschool woodshop. I got an ‘A.’ Most of the others kids failed. Guess they weren’t willing to go the extra mile.”


Years later, my oldest daughter, Ruby, had an idea. “You should get tattoos over the scars. Turn them into something good.”


I smiled at her because she is the most incredible artist—and now her art is on people across the world. “I’m proud of what you do, but I don’t want a tattoo,” I said. “I’m the only 40-year-old I know who doesn’t have a tattoo. I’m kind of proud of that.”


She looked a bit dejected, and I realized how much it might mean if I got some of her artwork on me. I’d been thinking about it around the time my cousin died. On May 2nd, I read a post about him on Facebook. His mother felt like the last message from her son was actually a hand tattoo. Although she doesn’t condone that type of body art, these words somehow became his last message to her: “Walk by faith, not by sight.” And in the days after his death, that tattoo gave her peace. 


A couple of weeks following his funeral, I had a dream that I asked Ruby to write something on the delicate skin between my thumb and forefinger. It’s the one message I’d like to carry on long after I’m gone.


“I want you to write ‘I love you.’”


“That’s it?” she asked, not knowing the greater meaning those three words might hold someday.


“In your handwriting. Yes, just ‘I love you.’ When I’m at cancer treatments, getting ready for surgeries or radiation… I can look down at my hand and remember all of you and why I’m fighting so hard to live.”


She did the tattoo today and ended up adding a leaf that connects the melanoma scar to my mutilated thumb and a couple of other scars. Leaves symbolize hope. Although I might not beat what doctors are calling terminal cancer, “hope” will help me stay the course until my time comes. 


So, as I looked at her artwork tonight, I couldn’t help crying. “Are you regretting it?” a family member asked.


“Not at all,” I responded. “I’m just thinking, she took some hard memories and made them beautiful.” I sniffled. “It’s one of the things I hope my life will embody: finding the good—the beauty—in otherwise terrible experiences. And that’s what this tattoo means to me now.”


So, I got a hand tattoo. It didn’t hurt as bad as I expected, and it even made me more proud of my scars. Instead of covering them up, Ruby did something she’s perfected since childhood: She’s always brought out the beauty in life because SHE is exceptional.

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