One of the best writers at The New York Times, I think, is Dana Jennings, an editor there, who has been writing about his brutal and exhausting battle with prostate cancer. Unlike much Times’ copy, which can be polite, accurate but bloodless, Jennings’ personal essays on this subject practically jump off the page and grab you by the throat. They’re not always fun, but they remind me, anyway, what great writing is about.
In today’s Times’ column, Cases, a weekly, long-running feature about the personal experience of illness or healthcare (open to all writers, I’ve written two of them), he writes eloquently about the many scars his body now carries, from childhood mishaps to major abdominal surgery to acne scars on his back. His honesty is extraordinary, and, I think refreshing.
“For all the potential tales of woe they suggest, scars are also signposts of optimism. If your body is game enough to knit itself back together after a hard physical lesson, that means you’re still alive, means you’re on the path toward healing…The scars remind me, too, that in this vain culture our vanity needs to be punctured and deflated — and that’s not such a bad thing. To paraphrase Ecclesiastes, better to be scarred and living than a dead lion.”
As someone with coconut knees (tiny indentations on the top of each, like a coconut, from one arthroscopy apiece) and two scars on the inside of each wrist — one, a half-inch souvenir of a motorbike ride in Thailand gone awry and the other from scraping against a wet wire during a gale-force wind while sailboat racing off Long Island Sound — I value my scars as well. Like Jennings reminds us, they’re the roadmap of our lives, reminding us, and those who get close enough to see them, of some of the best, and worst, places we’ve been.