When scars are no longer scary

Shortly after I left the ministry, I got a tattoo. I admit, it was a rite of passage. Having always been "a nice guy," it was proof that I could also be a little naughty. My inspiration was a man I met who had tattooed the scar from his open-heart surgery. He said the scar was a badge of honor, and he thought the tattoo called attention to it.If you have a tattoo, you know that getting "inked" requires some fortitude, especially if the design is intricate or it's placed in a tender location. I've never had a scar turned into a work of art, but I've seen pictures of people who have. One unforgettable image I have in mind is of Deena Metzger, a breast cancer survivor who was photographed by Hella Hammid in 1980. If you've ever seen this icon of healing, you probably know how powerful and triumphant it is.I recently read a story (published in The Dallas Morning News in February 2008) by graphic artist Karen Blessen that gave me a new way of looking at scarring, particularly the type that occurs as a result of surgery."For centuries, many indigenous cultures in Africa, such as the Nuba, have been connoisseurs of scarification," Blessen wrote. "These 'beauty operations' are both ornamental and functional. Scars are proof of courage and evidence that one can endure pain without complaint. They represent stages of maturity, how many children a woman has borne or family lineage. They are regarded as appealing and erotic to touch. In some tribes, a scarified woman is seen as sexually demanding and therefore sought after."Blessen then went on to describe how, in ancient India, warriors proudly displayed their scars, but only if they were on the front of their body. "Frontal scars were the mark of a fierce survival of battle," she wrote. "Scars from a weapon strike on one's back were a source of shame, because they signaled flight."She then contrasted these ancient cultures to modern American culture, where women are more likely to ask for scars to be "hidden or minimized."Blessen concluded her story by calling cancer scars "the battle remnant of a new warrior class...as marks of courage and a ferocious will to live."Have you been scarred by cancer? What do you see when you look at your scars? Are they badges of honor? Brands of courage that speak of your undying determination to live another day, another hour, another minute? Have you considered transforming your scars into body art?