As a young boy, I liked to use my finger to trace the imposing scar on the fleshy part of my father’s arm. If you asked, he would tell you how it happened.

During the depression years, he worked in the bush felling trees and cutting them into fence posts. It was demanding work, calling on all his physical reserves. On one occasion, he tried to step over a slippery log, lost his footing, and fell on the axe head. It was a deep cut as the blade was razor sharp. Fortunately, he didn’t sever the brachial artery or he would have bled to death. The cut required many stitches. Undeterred, my father returned to work using his one good arm to wield the axe.

I have several small scars but nothing as impressive. The first occurred when I was paddling in the shallows and stood on the edge of a shell. It flipped up and cut me on the ankle bone. I watched as blood mingled with the swirling seawater. The other was a wrist wound. I was staying with nana over the Christmas holidays. She lived on a dairy farm. I wanted to go inside but one of the cattle dogs was in the way. He was eating from a bowl. As I bent down to move it so I could pass he latched onto my wrist.

Physical scars come from a variety of sources, an accident, major surgery, or physical abuse. They can be a badge of honour, a reminder of past wrongs, or a lasting legacy of stupidity.

Physical scars are generally visible and may cause disfigurement. Their appearance can lead to rejection. But they cannot and do not show how much pain or suffering a person has experienced. They conceal the emotional or mental distress.

Emotional scars are considered more damaging and are a powerful influence on how we function. My apprehension around dogs stems from that childhood moment when a cattle dog swung from my arm. Don’t misunderstand me, I like dogs. My difficulty is reading their intentions, particularly with breeds known to be aggressive. I’m sure they sense my uneasiness.

Emotional scars speak of suffering. They are often the result of traumatic events that shatter our beliefs and overturn our assumptions about people and life.

I recall an incident dating back to my second year of high school. For some reason, I had been detained after school. When I went to the bike rack I could see that no one else was around. As I rode out the school gate I saw a car parked by the side of the road. There were three young men standing around. I had an uneasy feeling and sensed that this was a dangerous situation. I had the option of turning down a side street but thought they could follow me. I also calculated it would take me further from home. I decided to ride past them on the opposite side of the road while remaining on high alert should any of them make a move. When I was next to the car, one of the men lunged at me. I swerved, avoiding his grasping hand, and took off with great urgency. Fearful, yet determined, I rode with a ‘calculated recklessness.’

It’s uncomfortable to look back and consider what might have been. The landscape of my life would have been altered in ways I can only imagine should I have fallen into their hands. Even so, the experience left an emotional scar that altered my perceptions. I realised there were people who would inflict suffering on anyone to further their interests.

When our son Adam died to suicide I was wounded deeply. The emotional scar, although hidden, redefined my life. Few know of my pain and fewer still pause to reflect on what it might mean.

It is a permanent scar that nothing can erase. Loving Adam leaves a legacy that is undeniable, uncomfortable and unfathomable. I’m sure he had no idea. How could he? He was consumed by his own suffering.

The scar is restrictive. Its tautness diminishes flexibility. It is difficult to believe with the same certainty, to live with the same abandonment, and to hope with the same confidence.

The scar speaks of vulnerability. The temptation is to pretend otherwise. There is a virtue in owning our brokenness and to welcome the process of healing and restoration.

We need to honour our emotional scars. They allow us to see ourselves in all our fragility. As the acute hurt subsides there can be a surge of renewed intent, a creative explosion. It remains a tribute to the tragic unwanted and unscheduled disruptions of life.

Author: Bruce Rickard

Reflections on Suicide and Staying Alive: My son's suicide changed everything. I felt an obligation to understand why anyone would want to end their life. My regular blog posts explore the causes and prevalence of suicide and what is needed to sustain a healthy mind and a hope-filled future.

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