On Scars

I just finished reading The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. In it, a missionary moves his family from Georgia to the Congo in the late 1950s to convert the natives to Christianity. The experience profoundly affects his wife and children, each in a different way.

Near the end of the story, his daughter Adah reflects on the experience, saying, “If chained is where you have been, your arms will always bear marks of the shackles. What you have to lose is your story, your own slant. You’ll look at the scars on your arms and see mere ugliness, or you’ll take great care to look away from them and see nothing. Either way, you have no words for the story of where you came from.”

I couldn’t help but reflect on how this is true in many situations. We all have injuries, some physical and some emotional. And in some way we are all marked by those experiences. Healing isn’t about erasing the experience itself, so much as it is about integrating it. Our hurts are part of us. They aren’t evidence of weakness. They can, in fact, be evidence of strength.

Later, she concludes, “The power is in the balance: we are our injuries, as much as we are our successes.” Thus, if we allow all of our experiences to become part of the tapestry of our lives, we can create something even more beautiful than we might by simply cataloguing our success stories.

There’s a lesson in here, too, about not holding too tightly to our own stories, to our “slant.” If we identify too strongly with a certain role, as victim, or if we cast others as perpetrators, we run the risk of getting too entrenched in our own stories, getting stuck in an emotional and psychological rut.

If we can find the balance, indeed if we can find words to weave our own stories, in full color and complexity, they acquire a richness that serves as inspiration for others, and a catalyst for our own growth and development.

How we see things…Part III

How we see things has a great deal to do with expectations. What do we expect to see? How do we expect others to behave?

Much of the time, we will get exactly what we expect. Then, as a bonus, we satisfy our desire to be right. I’m joking, partly. But when we get validation of our opinions or worldview, that only serves to solidify beliefs that may, or may not, serve us well in the long run.

But what about when we don’t get what we expect? What happens when people let us down?

It’s important (but, I acknowledge, also difficult) to maintain a healthy sense of balance between hoping for the best and having realistic expectations regarding the people and situations in our lives. It requires a certain level of self-awareness to realize how we can project our feelings and our fears onto people around us.

While it’s easier to blame other people, it’s also potentially more useful to inquire within. To determine how our own desires and motivations play a role in the creation, and the resolution, of any given situation. And to take responsibility for our own contribution.