Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Scar Stories

One of my assignments this semester is to analyze a family story that is told regularly and has become a symbolic part of the larger family narrative. I've been thinking of what family story I might choose. I could tell of the time my little sister got a spanking on the way to Disney World for singing the Chili's jingle a zillion and one times (one time too many, apparently). I could tell of how Katie once called me in tears after she had tried to cut Noah's hair, accidentally forgetting to put a guard on the trimmer. (He had to wear a toboggan in his school Christmas program that year.) I could use those, or I could use a story I heard recently in a completely unexpected moment.

I heard the story - or, more specifically, a reference to the story - in a hospital ICU room, my family surrounding my Uncle Ronnie as he lay comatose in the hospital bed. We had just gotten the news. Uncle Ronnie has been battling a rapidly advancing cirrhosis of the liver for several months. He was recently put on the list for a liver transplant, but now this. His mother, brother, sisters, wife, children, and the rest of us now stood around the bed, silent, teary-eyed, afraid. Eyes shifted about from Uncle Ronnie to the floor and back again. After a moment, my aunt Charolette spoke up.

"Do you remember that scar?" Uncle Ronnie's legs stuck out from the bed sheets, revealing a deep scar just above his right ankle.

"At the train tracks?" asked another of his sisters.

"Yeah." And suddenly there was laughter, conversation, relief.

I was amazed at how this little bit of story served to break up the stony silence, how it brightened up that night-time ICU ward. It lifted us from the dismal moment and into the grand narrative where brothers can get cut up at the railroad tracks and still live to tell the tale. Surely that narrative power is worth a scar or two. There is no way that Uncle Ronnie could have known as a boy what that scar would one day accomplish, how that little moment of pain would lift his family out of their own heartache if only also for a moment. If he had, wouldn't he have gladly endured it?

I suppose heaven will be full of scar stories. When we get our new bodies, I hope all the old scars remain. We will sit around and tell the tales of how we got broken, bruised, and cut to the bone and how we always managed to get back up, dust ourselves off, and keep going. We'll tell of how we eventually suffered the heaviest blow, each in our own way, until the day finally came when we didn't have to hold our breath anymore. I suppose we'll laugh at each other's stories as a man laughs at the unfounded fears of his childhood. And when we've exhausted our storehouse of tales, having saved the best for last, we will ask Jesus about His scars. And, just like the zillion and one times before, He will tell the Scar Story that is the source of all joy, and we will remember and be lifted.

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