One of the things I noticed when I met Mr. Blandings for the first time was the slightly pink, jagged scar that ran from inside his left nostril all the way down to the his lip, where it ended in a silvery flourish. It would take several weeks before I got up the courage to ask how it had come to be one of the defining features of his face; one doesn't generally go about asking strangers such personal things, and the crossing the line from stranger to casual acquaintance to actual friend takes a little bit of time, even in the close quarters of a college newspaper office.
Mr. Blandings was slightly flustered when I asked about the scar. His hand fluttered up to trace it, and he shrugged slightly before answering. I knew right away I had hit on a sensitive subject. Although he had been living with that line of tissue for each of his twenty years, it was still a source of some angst. It was a birth defect, he told me. A cleft lip and palate. Repaired through multiple surgeries over the course of several years. Lots of painful dental work. Speech therapy. And oh, yes: the teasing.
I can't say for certain that it was in this moment that I fell in love with Mr. Blandings, but I know that when I look back on our earliest days together, this is one of those exchanges that I recall in soft focus, lit with what now seems like a lifetime of love and understanding and awe. Something about that scar had softened the heart of this man, molding him into someone somehow more sensitive and empathetic than the others I knew. Something about that tiny evidence of imperfection made him more approachable, more perfect to the hurt and broken girl that I was.
It still seems to baffle Mr. Blandings that I adore his cleft palate scar. He finds it amusing that I wish our children could somehow inherit the slightly off-center tilt of his nose, as if the results of a plastic surgeon's craft could trump the genetic code passed down through biology. And while my husband has now, at 41, come to a place where he's not only comfortable with, but proud of, the scar that he carries, the memories of the childhood jeers and medical dramas surrounding it are something he would choose to forget, if he could.
Maybe because my own scars are less prominent and more personal, I find it hard to relate to the place where he was as a boy--hating his own face, creating fictions to cover the boring truth (his favorite explanation was that he had been a bystander in a knife fight and was slashed, if you can believe it). My scars are all sentimental. There's the thin line on my thumb that I got the day my Mamaw was teaching me to peel potatoes. The puckered, dimpled skin on the back of my left hand I won trying to learn to jump my bike over a curb. The set of teeth marks (yes, teeth marks) on my upper arm that perfectly match the set my four year-old brother was sporting the day we got into a physical fight over the Nintendo Duck Hunt controller.
Nothing big or life-altering. Nothing beyond the norm of what life dishes out and leaves behind, written on the canvas of our skin.
And I guess this attitude--this "I have journeyed and lived and been changed"-- is what makes me so, so sad each time I speak with a well-meaning friend or relative who asks me how I "feel" about the long c-section incision still healing across my abdomen.
In truth? I don't "feel" much about it. It is what it is. Like the silvery, snaking stretch marks that each previous child has left behind on my body, this new mark is just another in a parade of changes wrought by the gift of motherhood. I don't look at my body in disgust, or with a feeling of failure. I have been blessed to experience, not once, but five times, the absolutely stunning majesty of seeing my body do what God designed it to do. After years of infertility, of feeling like my body was broken and out of sorts, I can honestly say that I do not take a single stretch mark for granted. Those scars are the remembrances of having been blessed to carry life. How do you look at the proof of that and turn away? How do you regret the places you have been that have brought you joy?
Birthing Reuven has left a measurable, physical mark on my body. Raising Reuven will leave an immeasurable, imperceptible mark on my soul. Already, the signs of pregnancy have faded into memory. The sciatic nerve pain disappeared. The swelling is gone from my feet. My maternity clothes are too baggy, even as my regular clothes are still too tight. In no time at all, the arduous, slow stepping up, up, up of pregnancy will have wound down. It still shocks me how quickly the physical side recedes. But the emotional, the spiritual ... it has only just begun. By the time this scar has healed fully, Reuven will be stealing my heart with wide, gummy smiles and maybe even catching handfuls of my hair as I nurse him.
And someday, when this line has faded to a lumpy, white sheen and I only realize its presence from time to time in the shower, I will still have the joy of being Reuven's mother, and walking around each day with a bit of him in my heart. This is the stuff that matters.