Joe Guse on Chris Farley

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Scar Tissue

I don't want to die without a few scars.
Chuck Palahniuk 


Scar tissue is stronger than regular tissue. Realize the strength, move on.
Henry Rollins


Had a truly enlightening conversation with a man last night who had just lost a friend of his in a motorcycle accident. He told me about how his friend had been an alcoholic for most of his life, but had been clean for five years when he died. He was killed by a drunk driver, a fact that left this man both angry and confused about God and fate and the futility of making plans, when the world seemed to him to be a series of unpredictable accidents. He was difficult to console, and while talking to him, it occurred to me that a scar was being formed that would take a long time to heal. Even as a (very off-duty) therapist, I doubted that there was much I could say to him that would help this scar heal any faster. These things take time.

And I’ve got plenty of my own scars as well. Memories come back sometimes that remind me of painful experiences, and in these moments, I think about what these things have meant to my own story. Sometimes these memories are powerful, and I wonder if I would be better off if they could be completely eradicated from my mind. The eternal sunshine of the spotless mind. They are actually quite close to developing a pill for this now. Seriously..

Ultimately however, I think I’ll take a pass on this pill, even if they do finally get it right. I’ve come to understand that these experiences have shaped me in ways, both good and bad, that inform my decisions in all kinds of powerful ways, Elisabeth K├╝bler-Ross has this to say on the subject, “The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.”

I think there is a tremendous amount of wisdom in these words. Although I don’t claim to be one of these “beautiful people” I do know that I became a therapist for several of the reasons that she mentions. When you’ve overcome pain in your own life, you feel a kind of calling to at least try to help others who are in some of the same emotional places. This is often exceedingly difficult, as human change is much more complex than simply sharing a story with someone. It takes patience, resilience, and most of all, simply time, and many kinds of pain can be especially resistant to change. We can become quite comfortable with the devils that we know, and yes I know this from a great deal of personal experience.

When change does happen, it occurs to me that it is akin to scar tissue that is hardening, and pain is slowly being transformed into something stronger, and in these moments a kind of wisdom is also being created. Perspective develops that allows us to see our painful experiences as part of a larger and more complex storyline. This is how we grow.

So in my own life I know that I will continue to share my own past experiences with others, while also thinking about the baggage I haven’t quite made peace with just yet. It reminds me to be patient with others, and perhaps more importantly, be patient with myself. To fully engage with this life in love and fate and moving in the direction of our dreams, is to make ourselves vulnerable to pain again and again and again. Sometimes we’re gonna get hurt. There’s just no way around it. But as we get older and wiser, we perhaps come to see that Mr. Rollins is right in the quote at the beginning of this essay, Scar tissue IS stronger than regular tissue, and we need to realize that we have survived these kinds of things before, and we will again. Any kind of life worth living is going to have some pain in it. It’s what we do after that matters.

With this in mind, I attended a wake today as a guest of the man at the beginning of the story. Not as a therapist, or really even a friend, but rather as someone who has lost some friends, felt that pain, and lived to tell the tale. I thought I was there to help him, but in the end, listening to the speeches, music, and stories, I learned at least as much as I taught.

Inspiration comes in all kinds of places..