Scars

They say age offers you an elegance you never much experienced in your youth. I don’t know who said that or whether it’s necessarily true, but I sure hope it is. I lived an inelegant life for the first quarter century and it’s taken some doing to cultivate a measure of grace in the next one. At fifty-five the one true gift I’ve found is reflection. In the looking back I offer myself a chance to reframe a lot of experience.

That’s not particular to Ojibway people nor is it particular to men. Instead, it’s the bonus gift you earn by subscribing to life regardless of background or gender. There’s a looking back place you come to on your journey and I suppose it’s there, on that one hill of life, where you learn what elegance is all about. Seeing, in the end, is believing.

For instance, I cut my hair a few years back. It used to hang to my waist. I was proud of it and took great care to tend to it every day. There are traditional teachings about hair and what it represents and I paid attention to those as well as daily hygiene and maintenance. My wife used to say that it was hard for a woman to live with a man who had better hair. I don’t know about that, but I do know that there came a time when it just didn’t fit who I was trying to become.

            It took a lot of gumption to chop it off. But nowadays my hair is short like the brush cut I used to wear and hate when I was a teenager. It feels good. I feel grown up and mature and there isn’t all that fuss and bother getting out of the shower with four feet of hair to dry and brush out. I can go anywhere and feel sorted out and proper and even the cultural concerns have dissipated. I carry my identity on the inside these days.

            But when I go to a new barber the first thing they see are the scars on my noggin. There’s a few of them and there’s a particularly nasty one on the back. It was never stitched and it healed ragged and they always say, “Wow. Must have been a whack.”

            In the old days I was known to have said, “Yeah but chicks dig it.” That always earned me a few laughs but the truth is, I don’t know that chicks do. That particular scar came from falling in a drunken haze and splitting my head open on a rock. I was too busy playing at being hard to get it stitched. There’s nothing romantic or tough about that and any self-respecting chick would definitely not dig it.

            Back then I needed a way to cover up the shame I felt about that scar. Humor is a good device and I used it well throughout the years. You can cover up a lot of things with a belly laugh but jokes never really help you see things any differently.

            See, I carry a lot of scars. Not just on my head but on my body too. Each of them has a story and for the most part, those tales are sad and hard to tell. Some came from bats and pipes and knives. Others came from fists or foolish blunders with tools. Some came from a lifelong battle with booze and the dangerous lifestyle that teeters around after hard drinkers.

There are a lot of tears to go along with those scars because when they happened my skin became broken territory and my heart went along for the ride. I couldn’t cry for a long time. I was afraid that if I started I would never stop and it took a lot of work to be able to get to the point where I could talk about my hurts. It takes a man to tell real life stories and it took me a long time to become one.

            See, I knew the ragged scar on the back of my head was there. I knew where it came from and I knew what it represented. I just wasn’t strong enough to face that. But you get elegant with age. That elegance allows you to look back and learn to see the lessons in things – not just the pain and shame.

So even if I don’t exactly cherish my scars, they teach me something every time I see them. They teach me that we wound ourselves the most when we don’t share the real stories of our time here. When we don’t own our hard times and share them. It takes a man to get honest and do that – and you know what? Chicks really dig that.

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About Richard Wagamese

I am a published author with 13 titles published by major Canadian publishers. I am a First Nations person from the Ojibway Nation in Northwestern, Ontario, Canada. As a professional writer since 1979 I have written for newspaper, radio television, magazines and book publishing. I love the culture of books and the people who populate it. 2012 recipient of the National Aboriginal Achievement Award for Media & Communications. View all posts by Richard Wagamese

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