From my home office, I can watch cars on a state highway. It’s a two-lane road that winds across some stunningly beautiful landscapes, crossing the whole country if you’re inclined to take it. It’s also a scar on the land.
Asphalt blocks all plant growth, cars strike unwary wildlife, roadsides everywhere are still places that collect trash, salt, mud, gravel, all the ugliness we can throw at it. But that scar on the earth is what makes travel possible. I value travel, so how can I hate that scar?
On my own body, there are scars that seem as long and as severe as any highway in proportion to the amount of “land” there is on me for them to mark.
Running down the center of my chest is one such scar. It starts with a tiny blob and then trails down, like a comet headed straight up to my throat. It’s the scar the surgeon created when he opened my chest to reconfigure the veins supplying blood to my heart.
Like a sacrifice, laid on the altar of the operating table, arms outstretched, fully exposed, he cracked my chest wide open and removed my heart. He attached it to mechanical pumps and laid it on its own surface, away from the rest of me, for a few hours to fix it. I still find it hard to understand how that is even possible, but it is.
To get the raw materials needed for the operation, he drew his knife along my inner forearm. There, he removed an artery. To this day, nearly ten years later, that scar remains the most prominent. I was taken apart and reassembled. Areas were paved, new roads laid.
I remember looking at the scab in my hospital bed, after the operation and thinking it looked like an autograph, like my surgeon’s signature on his work. Now, it is more of a sound wave with peaks and ridges, maybe a cry for help, maybe a song, maybe a simple sentence: “this happened to me and I survived.” It is numb. So is the place where they removed a vein from my leg. It may always be that way, and I’ve made peace with that.
These are the scars, the highways, along which I travel through my life now. Like the road outside my office window, they are seldom unoccupied. If I forget to exercise on any given day, they are there to remind me. My glance travels across them as I dress, shower or brush my teeth every day. They change they way I dress, the way I cook, the way I look both to others and from within. They make me think about my life. They make me think about the world. Without them, parts of my psyche would be unknown territory.
But they mar the perfect plains of smooth skin that used to be my body. They change the texture of the fabric I offer up to my husband’s touch. They change the path of blood through my veins. They render some areas too well traveled and others? The others they have turned to wasteland.
I have no idea how much longer any of it will persist. But I remind myself, as a friend once told me, it’s all a game of inches. Every day, another inch toward mortality, every day, another inch of life extended, every day, another curve in the road to travel.
I mean to see as much of it as any person can.