Scars

We all carry scars. Physical scars, emotional scars. Scars from crazy adventures, scars from stupid decisions, deep scars from emotional experiences that changed who we are or were.

Sometimes the scars are small and non-descript. No-one else would know the backstory, even if they noticed the tiny scar. Sometimes they’re evident to everyone – particularly when trauma brings back that pain. The perhaps-out-of-proportion emotional reaction. The visceral re-experiencing of a past traumas overcome.

This week has been difficult. So many weeks are difficult. Some people’s scars, particularly emotional scars, were exposed by a traumatic event. Some of those scars are recent – not yet healed. Some are long-past but still bring up difficult memories.

Do we value the scars of our colleagues and friends? Not in the sense of sensationally wishing to know all the details, but in the sense of respectfully appreciating that the scars mean something – they mean, more often than not, adversity overcome and lessons learned.

There is a Billy Joel song called “Pressure“. The lyrics have often struck me

You turned the tap dance into your crusade
 Now here you are with your faith
 And your Peter Pan advice
 You have no scars on your face
 And you cannot handle
 Pressure

Some of my own scars run deep. Particularly emotional scars. There are things I have seen and experienced that have changed me. They have made me less open, less giving, less willing to try, to learn, to grow. It’s hard to move past those experiences and find ways to be open again.

Yet this tough week comes at a time when I have found – against all expectations – people who are able to challenge and encourage me to rediscover my strength and my humanity.

I won’t go back and I won’t put myself in those situations again, yet I’m finding, day to day, ways to put those scars and those experiences into perspective. I am learning to cope with the vicarious trauma of the work that I do, with the real trauma of some of those I work with and care about, in ways that are healthier and more constructive – with the constant support of amazing, strong people, some of whom are working through the same or similar challenges, who find the strength and humility to share experiences with me and help me find my own strength.

I am not sad about the scars that I carry. They are a map of journeys taken and the road less travelled and lessons learned. Respecting those scars and the stories behind them – my own and others’ – is a foundation for new journeys, physical or literal, with people who value past experiences and can see and share new paths.

The scars we carry do not define us; they remind us and help us to find new, better, sometimes wiser, ways of taking on the challenge of a life less ordinary.

Autumn Sunday Afternoon (slowing down)

The sky is the colour of winter. A little bit hazy; a little bit far away. Like high-school rugby matches from crowded concrete stands. Like long Grahamstown walks past frost-whitened fields. Like quiet days studying for mid-year exams.

The air is still warmer, though. Still a sunny Autumn day. Still warm for now. Later there will be a chill in the air. Later the days and the evenings will be colder.

It took me many years but I think I’ve learned to love Autumn, just a bit. The leaves are beginning to change. I noticed it yesterday. The colours make me think of Daegu, now, and the spectacular Korean Fall. This picture was a trip to visit a friend in Seoul.

autumn seoul

Joburg never quite matches that but Zoo Lake and Emmarentia Dam are pretty and the Joburg flowers add their little bit – purples and reds, from bougainvillea to bottlebrush to the sweet scent of the last few yesterday-today-and-tomorrows.

autumn jozi

The mornings have a chilly edge, too, and there is a glare in the air that wasn’t there during the sunny months. The sun slips and slides through the Jacaranda trees as I walk to the station in the morning. Some days I stop for coffee and just enjoy the depth of the sky and brightness.

Today I sit on my pleasantly warm balcony thinking about Autumns past, as a quiet weekend gently drifts away.

Sunday soundtrack: Johnny Cash & Kris Kristofferson – Sunday Morning Coming Down

Okapi

The DRC trip keeps returning to my mind. Everything keeps drifting in that direction. Kinshasa and Goma, Bunia and Beni come up in conversations, in news feeds, in humanitarian debate wormholes down which I have fallen.

Last weekend I went to the zoo. I was with three well-traveled, cosmopolitan friends; the kind of friends with whom half an hour’s conversation can move easily through three different continents and several decades of history. A zoo trip is a great opportunity to take a long walk through pleasant surroundings with plenty of conversation-starting animal sightings. This trip was to the Pretoria Zoo. We chose this zoo for a very particular reason: Okapi.

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