Crooked Kisses and Other Wounds

(Scars not yet visible but quite present, Graduation, SUNY Oswego, May 1979)

You may have seen my post on “memory scars” the other day. Readers shared some comments regarding their own wounds; we all have them, acknowledged or not.

Our culture, like many before it and no doubt many after it, idolizes perfection. You’ve seen all the ads for creams that will “erase” every scar or stretch mark. There are dermatological procedures that will do similar things. The quest for perfection is often twinned with a quest for eternal youth.

Recently I came across a box of old photos and saw a younger me gazing out from many of them. It reminded me that more supple skin communicated one thing and that my wrinkles communicate another. Neither is good or bad; they are simply visions of different chapters of my life. Having said that, I will keep the wrinkles. The scars were there then, just not yet visible. *sigh*

All this brings me to Jesus. I know, I know for some of you, the mention of Jesus may be the exit lane on this blog. Well for me it is quite the opposite, but I think most readers know that.

Jesus’ “memory scars” are evident. A risen Christ with no bleeding hands or feet, airbrushed and photoshopped into perfection tells a different story, doesn’t he? While I may be keenly aware that early images of Jesus were of good shepherds and that the Cross imagery came much later, I don’t reject the bleeding bits.

After all, we are told in the Gospel of John about this exchange:

Thomas, called Didymus, one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came.So the other disciples said to him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nail marks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

The wounds matter.

And Jesus leads with his wounds in this instance; returning to the Upper Room for this:

Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe.”

And we’ve been trying to not touch and then to pretty up those holes ever since. Both in Jesus and in ourselves! Hey, I’m as guilty as anyone of this but that doesn’t mean I don’t think about it. A lot. Call it ambiguity or call it duplicity – that’s fodder for another blog post!

For a multitude of reasons, I have been reflecting on my own wounds. They are wounds that I loathe, but yet I love them too – I don’t have a choice to do otherwise, do I? Well, let me rephrase that, I do have a choice, but every time I did not make that choice, I regretted it.

In reality, we have to warm up that love ourselves, but it is hard. We need examples, we need encouragement. This is what we hopefully learn in community – community as friends, as family, as church, as whatever circles we find ourselves in.

There is a passage from a book that I would like to share with you today. Richard Selzer. Selzer, who hails from the Capital District, was a surgeon and is a writer; if you have not read this man’s work, I highly recommend it. This particular piece is from his book Mortal Lessons, Notes on the Art of Surgery. From what I know, Selzer was not a religious man, he grew up in the home of a mixed Christian-Jewish marriage; he is however a man of reverence and a willing mind as I read him.

I stand by the bed where a young woman lies, her face postoperative, her mouth twisted in palsy, clownish. A tiny twig of the facial nerve, the one to the muscles of her mouth as been severed. She will be thus from now on. The surgeon had followed with religious fervor the curve of her flesh; I promise you that. Nevertheless, to remove the tumor in her cheek, I had to cut the little nerve.

Her young husband is in the room. He stands on the opposite side of the bed, and together they seem to dwell in the evening lamplight, isolated from me, private. Who are they, I ask myself, he and this wry-mouth I have made, who gaze at and touch each other so generously, greedily? The young woman speaks.

“Will my mouth always be like this?” she asks.
“Yes,” I say, “it will. It is because the nerve was cut.”
She nods, and is silent. But the young man smiles.
“I like it,” he says. “It is kind of cute.”

All at once I know who he is. I understand, and I lower my gaze. One is not bold in an encounter with a god. Unmindful, he bends to kiss her crooked mouth, and I so close, I can see how he twists his own lips to accommodate to hers, to show her that their kiss still works. I remember that the gods appeared in ancient Greece as mortals, and I hold my breath and let the wonder in.

It seems unavoidable, crooked kisses and all, whatever our memory scars are, we must lead with our wounds, plainly and without shame. And to do that we must give… and receive, all the crooked kisses that we can.

It is all so unlikely, but unlikely never means impossible, does it?


Memory Scars and Other Markings

One of the reasons that I began this new blog is because I want to write some chapters of my life down. If there is such a thing as scars of memory, I guess I have a few, but then who does not?

This year the awful anniversary of Hurricane Katrina was Friday. I did not write anything, not for lack of want. One must see Katrina post is Grandmere Mimi’s. She posts this annually and it was one of the first posts of hers that I read in 2007, when I was a but a baby blogger. The photo of Our Lady, whose head had come off and was then placed back onto her body is from New Orleans; read Mimi to learn more.

Recently I read an article about a sports related injury in Sports Illustrated. (Hey, my husband gets the magazine and this cover story caught my eye.)

The power of memory, scars physical, emotional and spiritual have all been swirling around my brain of late and I keep seeing reminders of how these things are played out in life.

So I was astounded to read this post about Katrina Day. The blog is written by Brother Patrick who is a Catholic brother. He has ties to New Orleans via his order.

His blog has recently become familiar to me via my Catholic blogging circles, but I share it without hesitation here. His reflections are thought provoking in every way and I am grateful to have him on my reading list.

Here is an excerpt from his post about Katrina:

Today is the 4th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina making lives interesting in Louisiana, and as it so happens, I’ve been reading for a class on how religions institutionalize memory. What particularly interests me is how we make wounds into sacred wounds to memorialize trauma. There is actually a show on MTV called Scarred (or something like that), which is mostly about extreme athletes telling stories of hurting themselves really badly and showing off the resulting scars while videos of their accidents replay over and over. (Seriously, I only watched it for about 3 minutes…really.) I remember seeing the news from Halloween in New Orleans in 2005, and a lot of people made costumes that poked fun at our collective plight – wearing the spray-painted markings that the National Guard put on houses they searched, for example. Some people have deliberately kept those markings on their houses, or kept the waterlines on their outer walls, as a way of remembering what happened here. People who go through initiation rites often receive some kind of permanent marking (scar, tattoo, wound, lost tooth, branding, whatever) as a way of marking them as initiated men or women and reminding them of their own mortality.

His words really resonate for me as I reflect upon my own “scars.” For me some visible signs of where I have come from are my weight and my ragged nails and cuticles. I would like to be thinner and have pretty hands, but that may not be as straightforward as it would appear and maybe I should not be in such a hurry, health concerns noted, about “being rid of them.”

There is so much more that I would like to say, but time is short. I will post this and perhaps add to it at another time.

I wonder what your memory scars are? Do you wear them with wisdom or pride or do you hide them and wish them away like I do sometimes?