We’ve all participated in so-called icebreakers in the interest of getting to know strangers. One such icebreaker game that sticks with me is the “scar story.” It works like this: Everyone sits in a circle, and one by one, each participant shares the story of their best scar (and shows it, if possible).
Growing up, I was never a fan of this one, mostly because I was self-conscious that I never had a good scar to show off. I’d sit and listen to the stories and wish I had something cool or exciting to share. And I would quietly be jealous that everyone else had a story. Because a story means you have something to say. A story is a memory of life experience. A story is what remains when an adventure has long ended.
Now I understand that scars are not the only memento of a life well lived, and are often more than just superficial blemishes. I look at my son, just barely 1 year old, and I can’t help but notice his scar. It’s not the first thing I notice anymore, but it’s also hard to miss.
My son, Charlie, has a critical Congenital Heart Defect (CHD). He is not unique in this way. In fact, 1 in 100 babies are born with some CHD, and 25 percent of those are considered critical, meaning these babies will often require surgery in the first year of life. (The late-night comedian Jimmy Kimmel recently brought CHD to the fore in the spring, after his son Billy was born with a critical defect.)
At 18-hours old, our son, Charlie, had his first major procedure, a cardiac catheterization. And at 4.5 months, he had his first open-heart surgery. (He’ll have at least one more in a few years.) With all the doctors’ appointments, medical tests, and procedures, Charlie has already been through too much. More than anyone, and certainly more than any child, should have to endure. But through this, Charlie has gained life experience, and has done so with a smile on his face.
Before his surgery, his mother and I spent a lot of time taking pictures of him without a shirt, trying to capture memories of him without his scar. We dreaded what it would mean to see our son with a physical blemish on his chest, no longer perfect. Since he came home from the hospital and the bandages came off, however, so too did our apprehension about having a child with a Congenital Heart Defect. Now we can’t imagine our son without his scar. It’s a reminder of all he has experienced already in his life. It’s a reminder of the optimism and strength with which he faces these challenges.
So what I’d say to my son is this: Charlie, don’t look at your scar as a blemish, or as a reminder of a harder time. Look in the mirror and appreciate the adventures you’ve already had, remember the amazing people who have helped you along the way, and learn from the life experience you’ve already gained. And during tough times, remember that the scar you wear on your chest is a symbol of your strength and your beauty. Your scar is part of who you are in the best possible sense.
And of course, your scar is a killer story for your icebreaker.
This post is part of the Here.Now series, which seeks to destigmatize mental health,
and is made possible by UJA-Federation of New York and The Jewish Board.
You can find other educational mental health resources here.