Touching your scars

Over the weekend, as I try to recover from a nasty cold that's been hanging on since Adam was a pup, I watched the American Experience Documentary about Maya Angelou.

I've been enthralled with Angelou ever since Miss Pauley, my high school English teacher, read one of her essays to the class my sophomore year of high school.

I was so moved by her words that our senior t-shirts from high school carried a stanza from the poem “I Rise” on the back. 

I was fortunate enough to hear Angelou speak in college, and aside from Desmond Tutu, I can’t remember being so mesmerized by the presence of one person.  

In a clip from the American Experience movie, she says “ When I write, I have to drag the pen across those scars.”

The statement struck me, as I envisioned dragging the sharp tip of a pen across a puffy, inflamed scar - over and over again. I think about my own writing here on this site, and the posts that have been most often read and shared. They are the posts of my depression, of my personal battle with my body image, of my personal stories. 

We know for Maya Angelou those scars were being raped at the age of seven, not speaking for five years, and spending a lifetime as part of the civil rights movement.

Many of us, when we decide to make a lifestyle change, are also touching over our own scars. We thumb over the scar of being picked last for teams on the playground. Over the scar of changing in front of others for the first time in gym class, comparing our pale white skin, our undeveloped and overdeveloped bodies to the teenagers across from us as we scurried to put on those awful gym uniforms. 

We touch the scar of inadequacy - perhaps we were the advanced math student or the gifted English student who suddenly found that when we ran to kick that soccer ball, it flew from the side of our foot and trickled only a few feet while others laughed.

We found that we could not do a front handspring on the playground. Some of us, not even a cartwheel. Too clumsy for hopscotch, too uncoordinated for baseball. Too overweight to keep up when we tried out track in seventh grade.

Despite being a good athlete, I despised gym class. And I nearly failed my senior year in high school because I refused to swim - because I couldn't. I was terrified of the deep end, where all of my friends were, I was mortified at changing naked in front my peers and the entire experience made me miserable.

As a coach who practically lives in the gym - I sometimes forget.

I sometimes forget that there are both men and women who, just by walking through our doors, are touching old scars. Scars of hurtful comments from well-meaning parents, cruel kids in school, and worst of all, ourselves. The scars of bathing suits tried on in the glaring harsh light of department stores, of shopping for new clothes and finding none that fit right and too many minutes standing naked in front of a full-length mirror in the morning - pinching our stomachs and cursing our will power. 

But I am also reminded of the rich words and experience that can come from touching those soft and tender places. For a writer like Maya Angelou, her willingness to “drag her pen over those scars” meant that I didn’t just read her words - they touched me - sat with me - changed me. 

For the men and women who find the courage to walk through our doors, to say I am willing to thumb over my scars about my body and myself - I remind myself that holding them in that vulnerability is the greatest gift I can offer.