People who meet me for the first time these days often do a discrete double-take when they see my right forearm. This makes me happy. I have this scar, see, and it is more awesome than any tattoo I could ever dream up. It’s an ordinary surgical scar, but it doesn’t look like one, and it’s not in a typical surgical-scar place, so there’s an aura of mystery around its ridged pink curve. It hints at danger—knives or motorcycles, sharks or bears, a rumble in a dark alley or an escape over barbed wire. At least I like to think it does, anyway, and the fact that no one who sees it for the first time ever asks about it suggests folks assume something sinister or traumatic. I let them assume. A hematoma may not be a knife fight but neither is it a stroll through a bright dewy meadow.
Funny thing is, I have a weird sort of fondness for both the scar and my memories of the hospital excursion that got me the scar. The whole thing was so out-of-the-blue bizarre—one day you’re training for your first ultramarathon and the next your left leg has swollen to elephantine proportions and the next week your doctor is excitedly telling you he’s never seen such an extensive case of deep-vein thrombosis in his life and it’s kind of astonishing you haven’t croaked from a pulmonary embolism—in such cases, you can really only shrug your shoulders and marvel at the strangeness. Mind you, I would never choose to go back to ICU. I like sleeping in a bed that isn’t surrounded by beeping machines, and it’s always a nice thing to be able to pee somewhere besides a pan placed in that bed. But that’s just it, see: I was uncomfortable, and occasionally in pain, but I wasn’t really suffering—especially since dozens of friends stopped every day with everything from tacos to bourbon to help me recover. If that’s suffering, sign me up for the Masochists Club pronto.
There’s a popular aphorism gracing many a facebook status about how pain is inevitable but suffering is optional. Yeah, I don’t buy it. I don’t ever want to tell someone going through something horrible that how they feel about it is a matter of personal preference. That said, there are painful situations that you get through with a shrug and a grin, just as there are mildly irksome situations that reduce you to pouting, whining, and foot-stomping misery. Not only is it near impossible to predict what good or bad fortune may come your way, it also seems equally difficult to predict how you’ll react. When I go out for a run, I never know which me will show up. Will it be the me who feels energized, confident, and strong, blasting through speed intervals and eager for more? That’s how I was last week. This week, a little different. Not so energized, not so confident, and really feeling rather slug-like. What changed? Hell if I know; all I know is every time I had to hit the faster pace I’d whimper a little, and as I discovered, it’s impossible to make whimpering sound confident.
And yet I got through. I hit my paces just right, went slightly farther than last week, and at least in terms of the numbers ended up successful. In terms of the feelings engendered while producing those numbers, it’s a different story. Nothing about that run felt good—except finishing it. When it was done, there were high-fives from the BFs and happy nuzzling from the dog (and let me tell you, after a hard-fought victory nothing beats congratulations from beings who don’t care what a sweaty gross mess you are). Likewise, I can’t say I actually enjoyed being in the hospital, though you can imagine my joy at getting out (as well as my glee at flashing my fresh-and-gruesome scar at unprepared viewers). Yet I hesitate to say that painful events should always yield positive outcomes. Sometimes they do, but there are other times you just want the whole miserable ordeal over. I’ve had my share of such ordeals, of bad experiences I never want to remember again if I can help it. I don’t show those scars.
When I look down at the scar that does show, the long ugly one on my arm, I want to laugh. It looks so delightfully ghastly, so much worse than the occasion that created it. You just never know, do you, how things are going to be, when you go for a run or for a lifetime, whether something’s going to break you or sustain you. I won’t say that’s what makes life enjoyable—if I could always feel absolutely amazing on every run, you don’t really think I’d say no, do you? But maybe let’s just say it makes life interesting, and occasionally amusing, and leave it at that.