This piece began with a single phrase that one day randomly insinuated itself into my conscious mind. “The map of my body.” It’s not so illogical when you think about it. The body really is a landscape all its own, complete with hills and valleys, rivers and woodlands, plains and caves. It’s subject to the same physical upheavals: quakes, tremors, winds, storms, and, for the less fortunate ones among us, active volcanoes spewing noxious elements. Much like the modern human landscape, roads run through it in every direction and across countless crossroads; around each peninsula and over every mountain, as if the body itself is a vast network of highways and intersections. And in the midst of this wandering journey, if you care to take it, every so often you find a historical landmark, a sign, if you will, of some noteworthy event that took place on that very spot.
Of course, the body doesn’t have any of those giant brown placards telling you what happened in some otherwise unremarkable field or forest lining the highway, and without that, the landmark is no more meaningful to most than any other scrap of land. Only one who is intimately acquainted with the history of a particular place can look out over the fresh green growth carpeting a battle-scarred land and see in his mind where the cannons once stood or the blood once spilled. Only the expert can envision the scene of the carnage without assistance or direction. And who is more expert than one who lived through it?
We flock to them, the physical places where great events happened. We read the signs and try to imagine the precise square foot in which Custer fell or Washington froze, as if standing ourselves upon the spot in which it happened can make it somehow more authentic and real; can bring us somehow closer to the events of the past. And it does. By fixing history in space, it also fixes it in time; assigns it a permanent place in our collective consciousness. A landmark cannot fade into history like words in a textbook; so long as someone is interested enough to proclaim its continued existence, it is, and will remain, undeniably, everlastingly real.
And so with our scars. A scar is a story, a memorial to tragedy or triumph. It matters little whether the event that precipitated it was momentous or meaningless; it stakes a claim in our memory because we carry a physical reminder of it always. It is indelibly carved into the landscapes of our bodies, a point at which something significant enough occurred to leave a mark, a mark that we can use to trace history. Not the history of a world or a nation, but a history fully as complex and grand: that of a person.
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"Scars" is one of the essays to be featured in my forthcoming collection Stories from My Memory-Shelf: Fiction and Essays from My Past (only $0.99 Kindle, $5.99 paperback). To learn more about it, please visit the book's webpage or subscribe to my newsletter.