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Stories scars tell

Written by: Hagen Engler
Published: Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Every scar tells a story, they say. In the old days, these would have been tales of glory, conquest and victory on the battlefield of nations. These days, scars are somewhat more prosaic.

Actually, I just looked up prosaic. Not prosaic. Embarrassing. As I cast about my body for disturbances in its otherwise ruggedly handsome surface, every scar I encounter tells a tale of utter ignominy, cringefulness, face-palming doom and failure.

What amplifies the embarrassment of these scars of shame is that for a week or two you get to retell your tale of how you sustained the injury, totally out of context, and seldom to a sympathetic audience.

You’re in a pitch meeting, and your prospective client will notice you’ve scorched the crook of your right elbow. “You’ve burnt the inside of your elbow! How’d that happen?”

“Er, it’s a friction-burn, actually,” you’ll reply, “we were having a long-jump competition out the back door of my mate’s kitchen. I hooked my arm over his washing line as I jumped and… zzzrrkk!”

“Zzzzrrkk, indeed,” he’ll muse ironically. And you’ll begin the presentation, all the while trying to suck your entire arm back into your T-shirt.

The scar will fade, but never quite disappear, a lifelong reminder, to you at least, of long-jump night at Glen’s house in Summerstrand.

Elke sport het sy besering,” my other mate Smiler keeps saying. Every sport has its injuries. And drinking, in so much as it’s a sport, has a fine catalogue of injuries.

Among these you would count the facial carpet-burn from tripping over the ottoman trying to high-five your brother-in-law during the Champions League final, the torn bicep from bodysurfing down Stanley Street behind an Isuzu KB and the bloody thumb-blister from snapping your fingers for two hours listening to DJ Speedy at Truth.

A subset of drinking injuries are what I call UDIs – Unidentified Drinking Injuries. These ones you wake up with, but can’t quite explain. Here I would include twisted ankles, wedgie-burns and of course the slight stiffness of jaw that implies getting a snotklap you deserved in the back of the Mokopane Dros.

Not all scars of shame come from drinking, though. Oh god, no. We humans are eminently capable of being stupid on our own steam. Who here has not tried to remove a staple with their fingers and impaled the thing six millimetres deep into their fingernail flesh? Carefully oven-gloved a baking tray from the oven, then immediately picked it up again with your bare hands? Touched an electric fence “to check if it was working”?

Guilty, guilty, and guilty on all counts, I’m afraid.

Life’s not easy. It presents us with so many opportunities to top ourselves, let alone scar ourselves for life. I’m surprised we get beyond playschool.

There’s also flopping into bed with an earbud still in your ear, the inadvertent headbutt during overzealous lovemaking and tripping over your earphone cables while cueing up Born This Way on the treadmill. You’d be surprised what we’re capable of!

I propose that we own those scars. Think of them as a form of body modification through lifestyle. Say to yourself, “I’ve spent my life navigating the complexities of modern existence, I’ve picked up a few nicks and scratches, especially this DIY ear-piercing that went a bit miff, but I’m still standing.”

If you came out the far side of a modern life without a single mark, scratch, scar, or wound upon your body, then you wouldn’t have got the most out of it.

Yip, if life doesn’t scar you, then you haven’t been doing it right.

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