I separated my shoulder last fall, part of my brief sojourn in and introduction to the foreign and awe-inspiring land that is pain. The injury hurt a lot in the immediate aftermath, and it has mostly but not entirely healed. I’m told that’s part of the deal with separated shoulders: the joint is never quite the same again. On random days, doing motions I do every day I will experience a startling jolt of pain. I can never predict when or why it will come. Also, I have a small but noticeable bump where my collarbone meets my shoulder. Fortunately my collarbone and shoulder are sort of bumpy in general, so it’s not quite as stark as it might be, but it is still noticeable if you look. I have a bump and I always will.
After 6 weeks of recovery, I went back to my orthopedist. I asked him, tentatively, whether the bump would ever go away. He is a tall, gentle man about my age, and he looked directly at me in the small room. I’ll never forget what he said next.
“No, it won’t.” I swallowed. “But you know what? If you’re living, you’re going to get bumps. I have a bump on my shoulder. You’re 37. Don’t we all have bumps? Everybody’s got a bump.”
I laughed it off in the moment, but in retrospect I think there was deep wisdom in this comment. Of course this moment has been on my mind lately as Grace’s collarbone heals. She has a small but visible bump that we are told will flatten out as she grows. It’s on her left side, too, and I find this parallel both totally coincidental and breathtakingly not.
These bumps are just like our scars, outward manifestations of places we’ve been broken and healed. Whit’s long scar on his leg, the trace of a skidding epi-pen, has already faded from angry red to raised white. Grace’s broken bone, originally an enormous protrusion from her collarbone, has begun to flatten out and presumably the bones have begun to knit together. At 7 and 9 my children have already been marked by life. I myself am a map of scars, internal and external: several different bones healed, spots where suspicious moles were removed, the scar where I was hit on the face by a wine press when we lived in France.
We are all marked by our passage through life. Some of these marks are visible and some are not. I think it is valuable to remember the moments and experiences that made marks on us, for better or for worse. They are part of what shaped us into who we are now, after all. This reminds me of a passage from Donald Miller’s lovely book A Million Miles in a Thousand Years
Last year, I read a book about a man named Wilson Bentley, who coined the phrase “No two snowflakes are alike.” He is the one who discovered the actual reality that no two snowflakes are geometrically the same. Bentley was a New England farmer who fell in love with the beauty and individuality of snowflakes…. What amazed Bentley was the realization that each snowflake bore the scars of its journey. He discovered that each crystal is affected by the temperature of the sky, the altitude of the cloud from which it fell, the trajectory the wind took as it fell to earth, and a thousand other factors.
Big thanks to Erin, who told me she likes her own private collarbone bump for the reminder it is of her brave, tough child self. I hope Grace feels the same way someday.
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