"One ought, every day at least, to hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture
and, if possible, speak a few reasonable words." ~Goethe

~ also, if possible, to dwell in "a house where all's accustomed, ceremonious." ~Yeats

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Scars: Without a Hurt
the Heart is Hollow

One of our Black Walnut Trees,
Scarred by Lightning a Few Summers Ago


"Childhood has no forebodings; but then,
it is soothed by no memories of outlived sorrow

quotation from The Mill on the Floss, by English novelist
George Eliot (aka Mary Ann Evans, 1819 - 1880)

[click to enlarge collage from my clip-art phase, 1977]

Not long ago, some of my friends and family were having an ongoing facebook chat about the price of experience and the merit of scars -- what important lessons we might learn from them, what value they add to our lives. A couple of thought-provoking quotations appeared in the conversation chain:

First this, by the late writer and priest, Henri Nouwen (1932 - 96): "When we become aware that we do not have to escape our pains, but that we can mobilize them into a common search for life, those very pains are transformed from expressions of despair into signs of hope.”

And also this: "Viewed one way, scars are an ugly reminder of what has happened in our past. But, seen through different eyes, scars are our reassurance that healing has occurred" (attributed merely to Unknown).

What I had to contribute was the observation that scars serve also as a reminder of what we have loved. For example, there is the scar across my leg, caused by my little cat Marcus (RIP) one 4th of July when, frightened by some fireworks, he suddenly leapt out my lap, leaving behind a deep scratch (he didn't mean to). On the same leg, I have another long thin scar from the time when I scraped my knee against some rusty wire while helping my dear grandfather burn the trash (remember those days?). One glance at that scar, and I am immediately transported back to that very afternoon, playing around outside by the incinerator in the garden, not even caring that I was hurt. I can remember having so much fun, feeling so loved, secure, and happy to be there; and no doubt thinking myself very important because I was being allowed to play with fire!

In the novel Up From Jericho Tel (by E. L. Konigsburg; mentioned on this blog a few months ago in the post "Butterfly Collection" and also on my book blog), the narrator Jeanmarie describes making up with her best friend Malcolm after an argument. She is surprised to find that she feels closer to Malcolm than ever before and wonders why: "Maybe it was just that we had quarreled and made up, and scar tissue is tough" (144).

The poet Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892 - 1950), in one of her saddest sonnets (#IX in The Harp Weaver) captures the anguish of an unhealed heartache -- soothed not by the memory of outlived sorrow, toughened not by durable scar tissue, transformed not from despair to hope:

Here is a wound that never will heal, I know,
Being wrought not of a dearness and a death,
But of a love turned ashes and the breath
Gone out of beauty; never again will grow
The grass on that scarred acre, though I sow
Young seed there yearly and the sky bequeath
Its friendly weathers down, far underneath
Shall be such bitterness of an old woe.
That April should be shattered by a gust,
That August should be levelled by a rain,
I can endure, and that the lifted dust
Of man should settle to the earth again;
But that a dream can die, will be a thrust
Between my ribs forever of hot pain.

Brian Andreas captures a similar sentiment of rawness in one of his StoryPeople stories:

Chill Wind
Wrapped tightly against a chill wind she
just remembered from a long time ago &
no amount of current time & temperature
can help this one.

as well as:

sharp things that hurt for years afterwards
every time you think of them.

However, time does mellow most scars and most wounds do heal, leaving behind those physical and mental reminders of what we have loved and lost. No one explains it better than El Gallo, the suave, debonair bandit from The Fantasticks, who observes that "we all must die a bit / Before we grow again." Despite his worldly cynicism, he understands the human heart: "I hurt them for that reason / And myself a little bit too."

In the perfect song for this time of year, El Gallo sings, "Without a hurt, the heart is hollow."

Try To Remember
[Click song title for music]

Try to remember the kind of September
When life was slow and oh, so mellow.
Try to remember the kind of September
When grass was green and grain was yellow.
Try to remember the kind of September
When you were a tender and callow fellow.
Try to remember, and if you remember,
Then follow.

Try to remember when life was so tender
That no one wept except the willow.
Try to remember when life was so tender
That dreams were kept beside your pillow.
Try to remember when life was so tender
That love was an ember about to billow.
Try to remember, and if you remember,
Then follow.

Deep in December, it's nice to remember,
Although you know the snow will follow.
Deep in December, it's nice to remember,
Without a hurt the heart is hollow.
Deep in December, it's nice to remember,
The fire of September that made us mellow.
Deep in December, our hearts should remember
And follow.
Follow, follow, follow, follow.

Lyrics by Tom Jones (b. 1928)
Music by Harvey Schmidt (b. 1929)
Sung by Jerry Orbach (1935 - 2005; the original El Gallo, from 1959 - 61, at the Sullivan Street Playhouse)

The Fires of September
Drawing by Eloise Wilkin

Next Fortnightly Post
Thursday, October 14, 2010

Between now and then, read
THE QUOTIDIAN KIT ~ "Scarred But Standing"
my shorter, almost daily blog posts

Looking for a good book? Try
my running list of recent reading


  1. Kitti, I'm so impressed that you still have that page from the scrapbook 38 years later. Do Ben and Sam have similar pages in their 9th grade biology leaf collections? :) Loved your reflections, as usual! :) vera

  2. Vera, Although it's not an official leaf collection, in Sam's school scrapbook from 2000 we have saved several large leaves (including one every intricate lacy one that we brought back from Spring Break in England -- too bad I don't know what kind of tree it's from!). That's 10 years ago already! ~K.