Matee Avajon is a member of the Rutgers University women’s basketball team. In the wake of shock jock Don Imus’ infamous characterization of the team members, a characterization that has now cost him his radio show, Avajon said something that caught my attention. She said, “I think that this has scarred me for life.” I think that I understand what she means. She believes that from now on, whenever someone learns that she was a member of the 2007 Rutgers team that played for the NCAA national championship, they will automatically associate her with the label imposed on the team members by Imus and not with the very impressive accomplishments of the team. She may even be afraid that, no matter what she accomplishes in life, people will mainly think of her as one of those women who were caught up in this controversy.
Avajon’s words got me to thinking about the role that scars play in our lives.
I have a few scars. There is a small spot in the middle of my right eyebrow where no hair has grown since I was seven years old. My friend Cal was imitating his dog that was digging in the dirt as dogs are wont to do; in the course of Cal’s excavations he flung a rock that hit me just above the eye and made me bleed a lot. There is a thin half-inch scar on my left thumb. I accidentally gave that one to myself with a box cutter when I was working at my after school grocery store job. I can still feel the pain I experienced when Mr. Bill, the produce manager, poured alcohol over the cut and I can still sense the anger I felt when he told me to quit complaining about it. There are small scars on my back, my arm, and my chest where some moles had to be removed to check for possible cancer. In each instance the test results were negative. I have a lot of moles; it is a hereditary gift from my mother. Thanks, Mama.
Loved ones of mine have born more significant physical scars than any of mine. In 1963, when I was five years old, the men of my home church were constructing a new baptistery. Daddy was in the attic, trimming the edges of the opening in the ceiling where the light fixture would go, when he lost his balance and fell headfirst to the concrete floor below. He suffered two fractured vertebrae and had to have sixty stitches in his head. He recovered but those scars were visible through his crew cut for many years. I’m not sure that I thought about the price my father paid for that baptistery when I was baptized in it three years later, but I sure think about it now.
My mother bore the scars of her double mastectomy. I knew the scars were there but I had to see them in their fullness a few days before she died when she couldn’t get dressed and I, her sixteen year old son, was the only one home to help her. She told me that she didn’t want me to see her like that. I told her it was all right. It wasn’t.
My wife has a scar on the back of her hand, the results of a grease fire that occurred in our Seminary Village Apartment during my first semester at Southern Baptist Seminary in 1979. I vividly remember cleaning and redressing the wound during the first few days after the accident. She would sit there and read a magazine through her tears, trying to block out the pain. When we go to the beach in the summer and she stays out in the sun, a pink border will develop around the scar. And I remember.
I realize that I’ve been talking about physical scars while Matee Avajon was talking about emotional and social scars. The kinds of scars about which she is concerned are more subtle but certainly no less personal and difficult than the kind I have been describing. Still, scars of any sort do play an important role in our lives.
Scars remind us of the hurts we have experienced. That may not at first glance seem like a positive role, but it can be. Scars remind us of our humanness, of our mortality, and of our fragility. They remind us that we are not bulletproof; they are evidence of our vulnerability. Such awareness contributes to the development of humility, a necessary trait for effectiveness as a whole human being.
Scars remind us of the healing we have experienced. When I look at the scars left by the biopsies I’ve undergone, I am filled with gratitude that I did not have cancer. When I look at the occasional pink border around the scar on my wife’s hand, I am grateful that she was hurt no worse than she was and I am reminded of the love that grows as a result of the difficult times.
Scars remind us of the ones who have inflicted the wounds on us. Sometimes we inflict them on ourselves, as when I sliced my thumb with a box cutter. Such scars remind us that we can be careless, that we can be stupid, or that we can be cruel to ourselves. My thumb-slicing was an accident, but there have been things that I have done to myself that amounted to premeditated acts of wrong and hurt for which I have had to forgive myself. Sometimes the scars are inflicted on us by circumstances, such as the results of my mother’s cancer or the vast number of wounds that are suffered by people due to seemingly random events.
Sometimes, and I think these are the worst ones, scars are inflicted on us by other people. Such is the case with the Rutgers athletes. Words can wound deeply and can leave long-lasting and even permanent scars; we have all experienced such words. Other people can wound our reputation or harm our standing in the community or injure our self-esteem with their careless words. Sometimes the words are not careless; they are cruel and were sent out with the express purpose of doing damage to us. Certainly the scars that are the legacy of the harm done to us by another person remind us of that hurt and of that person.
Perhaps, though, real healing takes place when such scars can become a reminder of our ability to forgive. How the Rutgers ladies ultimately respond to Imus is up to them and I would not presume to tell them what to do. I do know this: when I hold something against someone it does more harm to me than it does to him. And I know that in my own life I have to come to terms with what it means to have the mind and heart of Christ when I am responding to one who hurts me.
One of the lections for this Sunday is the story about Jesus showing the wounds in his hands and side to Thomas. When he saw those wounds Thomas exclaimed “My Lord and my God!” Jesus Christ is my Lord and my God. It is his way that is to provide the pattern for my life. I wonder—when the resurrected Jesus looked at those wounds in his hands and his side, did he remember what he said as the soldiers were driving the spikes into him: “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing”? They did know, of course; they were crucifying a man. But they didn’t know everything about who he was and what the ramifications of their act would be.
As followers of that crucified and resurrected Lord, can our scars remind us of the miracle of God’s forgiveness of us and of its companion miracle of our God-given ability to forgive others? If so, then our scars can become reminders of something far more important than the wounds that we have received. They can become reminders of the grace of God.