Start Here!

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The red arrow leaves nothing to doubt. It points at the start of the labyrinth to the true beginning of the maze. I don’t much like the look of it. This is not the gentle, fun beginning of a child’s puzzle from my girlhood memories. I can already see there’s trouble ahead and I haven’t even started the game yet. Can’t they lull children into a sense, even a false sense, of security and ease a little longer? Why do they have to grow up so fast? My grandson used to love doing the puzzles in these paper magazines. Now, though only six years old, he’s blazed right past them to 5,000 piece jigsaws I couldn’t have done in my prime, let alone my infancy or dotage. Why would there be a children’s magazine in a doctor’s office? I guess children come to cancer surgeons too.  I don’t like to think about it.

But ‘Start Here!’ can’t be ignored. If one is lucky enough to be shown the way to begin, why pass it up? My eye slips furtively along the route to the center of the maze where I see things get much more complicated. Plenty of false starts and dead ends, to say nothing of a claustrophobic snarl of misleading passages luring you from one catastrophe to another. It would be better if I hadn’t tried to see ahead and just concentrated on the task at hand. ‘Start Here!’ should have been enough to keep me in the present. Even if you couldn’t read it would be obvious what that arrow is telling you.

“This is one of those times that scar tissue is good,” the surgeon is saying. I guess I must not have been listening. I can’t remember any time in my history of athletic injuries when scar tissue was good; to say nothing of the operations others have had where residual scar tissue caused more trouble and pain than the initial injury. Perhaps it’s time to pay attention.

“It’s because cartilage in the ear has a memory. It wants to go back where it was and we need scar tissue to hold it where we want it.” The surgeon, who seemed confident he could get my ear to do what he wanted after removing the unwanted melanomas my doctor just discovered, felt he should embellish a little. It must have been my look of shock and disbelief. I had this melanoma removed over six years ago. How could it have returned?

Everyone says it’s a shame; not fair after all I’ve been through. But I’ve just spent four months dealing with the shame and unfairness of life as my husband was diagnosed, treated, and died in this very same hospital down these very same halls. It’s a nightmare to be back here so soon, but it’s life. Could my guilt have been well-founded?  Was it always meant to be me and not him? I wondered about that all along. Now maybe I’m learning that my suspicion was right, all along.

“Yes, ears have a way of wanting to repeat old habits,” the surgeon explained. “Scar tissue assures they won’t be able to.” I looked out the doctor’s office window at a cerulean blue sky and wondered if life’s scars could be put to the same use. We repeat unhealthy patterns and torture ourselves with reiterated old stories that ended long ago. Can the scars from life’s injuries—dead ends, camouflaged dangers, fears of abandonment—be used to hold our gains in place? Sure, we have to use patience to let the wounds heal, but then will the scarring mold the new people we’ve become and hold them in place?

Ah, but wait up. Don’t get ahead of yourself. It’s enough to start at the beginning. No, perhaps it’s not the fun and games I imagined for my new life. Maybe it’s  a lot harder and more frightening than I’d planned. But I’m not sure why I thought it had to be easy and enjoyable in the first place. I see quite clearly that this is in fact the start for me, whether it’s pleasurable or not. Maybe if I just begin I can get past the trouble and move on to smoother flows. Possibly there are good things ahead, never to be found if I don’t move on now. Even scar tissue can be put to good use. ‘Start Here!’


4 Responses to Start Here!

  1. Sid- You have yet again given us a wonderful analogy of approaching trauma, scar tissue and their uses. The goal while in site,helps us to believe that the application of process of one step at a time makes the most sense. Your thoughts resonated with me because my cardiovascular surgeon years ago made the decision to leave an outdated ventricle lead to my pacemaker in place in the chest because to disturb the scar tissue surrounding it would have changed the balance of my heartbeat.
    Peggy and I have been reading a wonderful book by Atul Gawande, called “Being Mortal” Very interesting perspectives.

    • Yes, it’s all a matter of perspective and priorities. There are many times when one man’s meat becomes another man’s poison! The old adages have a wealth of truth in them, and scar tissue isn’t always a bad thing. Thanks for commenting, Jay. Your reading recommendation is also gratefully appreciated.

  2. One never knows how they will get through trauma, especially when we are in the midst of beginning. Your essay reveals some of the feelings of disorientation and fear as a contrast and highlight for those elements that get us through. The metaphor of the child’s puzzle is stunning in that one of life’s lessons is we must start here, there is no other way. If we jump too far ahead it all becomes unmanageable.

    Relating your scar tissue to the larger issue of how we survive also provides a dramatic new vision of the fact that wounds, set backs and traumas are part of the building blocks for resilience and moving through the maze of life.

    Your courage and strength is appreciated as a gift because you use your ordeal to share insights that soften our own fears. Including us in the resilience part of struggle with cancer is a true public health advancement.

    • Thank you, Paul. Musicians have taught me the importance of interpretation in communication through the arts, and seeing what others like you get out of what I write helps me to understand them as well. I hadn’t focused on the importance of the child’s puzzle. I just knew it was part of the scene for me. I appreciate you taking notice of it as you did. We learn a lot from children. And we writers learn a lot from our readers, too. You certainly prove that point!!

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