A Question by Robert Frost
A voice said, Look me in the stars
And tell me truly, men of earth,
If all the soul-and-body scars
Were not too much to pay for birth.
As I sat willingly to endure the pain of tattooing for the fifth time, I ponder this poem by Frost. I have had this poem posted in my classroom and in the signature of my email for over 7 years now, and I think I would begin to answer it.
Let me start with defining the word scar. According to the “all knowing’ Wikipedia, a scar can be defined as below:
Scars are areas of fibrous tissue (fibrosis) that replace normal skin after injury. A scar results from the biological process of wound repair in the skin and other tissues of the body. Thus, scarring is a natural part of the healing process.
When reflecting on this definition, I am drawn the sentence which states that “scarring is a natural part of the healing process.” It seems likely that each of us has at the very least one such instance evidencing the body’s healing of itself whether from a childhood bike accident, a playground mishap, or a –hopefully– minor procedure. I myself have several scars indicating that my body has healed itself at one time or another, but I think scars go beyond the body’s physiological working. I believe that scars, both those from instances like above and those we choose to give ourselves, like tattoos, help to heal more than our bodies; they heal our souls as well.
Let me explain my thoughts by cataloging for you, reader, some of my scars. I have the typical scars of childhood illness and acne. I have a scar barely visible above my right eye, one on my left elbow, and one on my left knee, all due to foolish child’s play. All of these scars serve as reminders of simpler times and once close family members now distant due to time and circumstance. But the scars have the ability to make me smile, even if in a sad way, and help to reconcile what I may once had with what I still have, happy memories.
Scars received in adulthood become a bit more difficult to talk about sometimes, but their presence is all the more important serving as reminders of survival, physically, emotionally, and mentally. I have a small scar on the top of my right breast from a biopsy; a two inch scar on the right side of my chest were my chemo port was placed; a T scar where surgeons cut out my left breast tissue and removed the nipple; a three inch scar under my left armpit where they removed 23 lymph nodes; three small tattooed dots which doctors used to line up my chest for radiation; and a deep divot in my right arm inside the elbow indicating scar tissue from the many IVs pushing poison in to my body. This multitude of scars came about after the diagnosis of breast cancer at age 24. Each scar has served as a conduit to healing. Obviously, each was part of the process of healing my body, and each is a visual reminder that I survived. These constant reminders have helped to heal me beyond the physiology; they have helped ease the hurt emotionally as I have found a strength within myself that I before did not know I possessed. But what about the soul you ask?
At the one year mark after having finished treatment, I decided I wanted to get a tattoo that would act as a visible reminder of the scars on my body due to my battle with cancer. I chose a Celtic knot design of the Tree of Life. It had two distinct sides which I took to represent as life before cancer and life after cancer. I had the tattoo placed on my wrist, a easily seen area visible to the world which allowed me to frequently talk about my ordeal and thus helping to heal my soul as I shared my story.
Just yesterday, I added another scar with the addition of a new tattoo. This tattoo is an enlargement of daughters’ thumb prints inside a heart with the last two lines of e.e. cumming’s poem, “i carry your heart”. My children are two of the most beautiful creations I have ever helped to make.
The oldest, my angel, is the reason I found the breast cancer in the first place. It was during the pregnancy because of the hormones that the tumor grew so rapidly that I was able to feel what had been growing in my body for, most likely, several years. My youngest daughter is my miracle. After the chemo, doctors were unsure I would ever be able to get pregnant again. Additionally, the anxiety I developed led me to constantly fear re-occurrence, and I was paralyzed when it came to making decisions like going to graduate school or having another child. And while my pregnancy was wrought with these fears, I would not have changed the decision that gave me her.
So scars, those won in battles, forged in play, or self-imposed in the form of meaningful tattoos can often serve as conduits in the healing of body, mind and soul. In other words, Robert Frost, no, “… all the soul-and-body scars/Were not too much to pay for birth” as they remind us we are alive, they teach us to be thankful and they help us to be stronger than we ever knew we could. And every scar I have, I would willingly seek out again if without them it would mean I did not have wonderful, happy childhood memories, a dear and loving husband who has never turned from a single scar, or the two most beautiful daughters in the word who will grow up with a mother who loves them fiercely.