Do You Want to Keep Your Scars In the Afterlife?

Howard Dully’s lobotomy

I am still haunted by Howard Dully’s story, “My Lobotomy,” which I heard on NPR several years ago. It occurred to me again as I read a comment on the blog this morning.

Last week’s Question That Haunts was compared by some to “How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?” But to others, it was a serious, existential question. To those of us who are able-bodied and able-minded, it’s no big deal. But to those of us who are not, it’s a different story.

For example, this comment came in from Worthless Beast:

I’m not sure I entirely agree with a pure-materialist view (then again, I’m “not sure” about most things)… and I’m no scholar, just a worthless nobody, but this is exactly why this post speaks to me.

I have a disability – one of the brain. Bipolar disorder that’s severe enough to keep me from being able to hold down a job for any length of time. A lot of people in the world do not treat brain-illness as real-illness and those that do, it would seem, think in terms that most people think of “illness” – “Cure it all now!” and “Let’s prevent more people from being born with this!”

As much as I work to manage symptoms, in the end, I like my crazy. I wasn’t diagnosed until adulthood, but there’s strong evidence that “this was the thing that was wrong with me” that my parents and teachers couldn’t figure out when I was a kid, and thus, it’s a condition that has been with me all of my life, has shaped my life and is an indelible part of me. I also find that having the issues that I have with my emotions helps in my creativity. I may not be able to hold down a normal job, but I’m hoping that some of my art and writing will get lucky and get “known” someday.

In any case, my “crazy” that the world looks down on and wants to “cure all” is something I donot want to be cured of – by man OR by God. Being wonky is what makes me “me.” To “lobotomize” me just because people are afraid of oddness or think it’s merciful would essentially destroy “me.”

I like to think, if the afterlife in any form is real, that we keep the scars we want to keep.

So, I put this out to the rest of you who carry illnesses and ailments of the mind and body: Do you want to carry your scars in the afterlife?

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  • Who does not carry some ailment of the mind / body? If there is someone out there who is perfect, I think I’d rather hear form them!

  • megan

    When I was in kindergarten, I had a benign abdominal tumor removed, along with my gallbladder and a section of my liver. This being back in the dark ages of medicine (i.e., the early 1980s), there were none of today’s fancy scopes or whatever that could probably do this with minimal scarring. So I have a pretty epic scar that starts under my left boob and runs all the way down to my right side, almost reaching my back. Several years ago, I was offered a cosmetic procedure that would, theoretically, remove or reduce the scar. I was a little bit surprised how immediate and how vehement my “no” was. Not because I was suspicious of the treatment’s efficacy or cost–though I did doubt both–but because I instinctively felt the scar had become a part of me and I didn’t want to lose it. Then again, it’s easy to think this way because the scar is a relic. It causes no pain and no effects other than causing people to say, “Oh my God. What happened to you???” the first time they see it.

    So more to the point, as someone who also struggles with mental illness (10 years diagnosed, probably 10 prior years undiagnosed), my answer is still yes, albeit it a qualified yes. I want to keep the part of me that contemplates things more deeply, as my illness makes it impossible for me to live on a purely surface level. I want to keep the part of me that is more compassionate, because I know what it’s like to be overwhelmed to the point of not being able to do that good ol’ American bootstrap-pull. But there are also a lot of darker impulses that I won’t mind leaving behind, thankyouverymuch. But then, don’t those impulses also make me who I am, as much as the nicer-sounding ones? I’m not sure.

    • “my illness makes it impossible for me to live on a purely surface level.”

      A perfect description of what it means to be human.

      Humans are the only animals that laugh and weep. Humans are the only animals that know the difference between what things are, and what they ought to be. — William Hazlitt

      • Curtis — I intend this gently, but I do mean it — both of your comments are the kind of remarks that invalidate the real struggles that those of us who struggle with this sort of stuff go through. They make light of something that is quite serious. I appreciate that it may not be intended to do that, but those sorts of remarks can definitely hurt.

        • I’m sorry you found them hurtful, Ben, and I can understand why you might; it seems to put serious mental disease on par with general human struggles, which it’s not. But (and with the obvious proviso that I don’t speak for Curtis) I really don’t think he meant it that way. As someone who struggles with clinical depression, I read his comment as a mark of solidarity, a statement that the mentally ill person may not be so alone as he sometimes thinks he is.

          It’s a hard line to walk sometimes, between solidarity and co-opting another person’s experience. And I am honestly not trying to come down on you for your reply (or Curtis for his) – more just offering another perspective. In any case, it’s always good to see how people react to what you say, in situations like this.

          • Thank you for your generous response Marta. I don’t find those kinds of comments hurtful like I used to (indeed, obviously it still strikes something). I’m confident that his comments are well intentioned, and he may not have meant anything that I read from it. I think it communicated that sort of thing to me after he said something very similar twice. It’s quite possible I’m reading my own experiences of people I needed to create boundaries with long ago, because they frequently insinuated that I was simply using excuses to be lazy.

            I’m very willing to see and receive what you are saying regarding his comments.

            • I come from the South and from a religious subculture, and am in psychotherapy. “You could get better if you just tried harder” is a lie I have heard more often than I like to admit, and I know the way the thought pattern works its way into your psyche. So you’ll get no judgment from me on that count.

        • I live with addiction and depression on a daily basis. I have my own perspective on things.

          Acknowledging the realness, even the necessity of suffering is not the same as making light of it.

          I spent the first half of my life trying to run away from suffering. Trying to struggle against the suffering, even as a life-long Christian. I did not experience healing until I learned to “lean into” my suffering. To live through my suffering. I think that is exaclty what Paul speaks of when he speaks of gaining strength through weakness.

          It was not until I accepted my suffering as a gift form God that I started to live. Because I could not feel real joy until I permitted myself to feel every part of life, including the suffering part.

          I believe God gives us suffering because all of life, including suffering, is part of God’s joy for us. I do not believe we escape suffering in some future heaven, because if we escaped suffering we would also be escaping life and joy. What is the point of living without joy?

          Does that mean we tolerate the suffering of others? No, absolutely not. First of all, we never tolerate the external imposition of suffering on others, and must end it whenever and however it happens. But there is an internal suffering, a pathos, that is part of all God-created human existance. We don’t have to “fix” our internal suffering. Most of all, we have to be present for each other, even through that suffering.

          I believe heaven is now. It is not something to wait for after we die. It is now. Anyone can experience heaven now if they stop trying to numb and struggle their way through life, and instead give themselves permission to experience all of life, through God, today. That is my perspective.

          I’m still waiting for that perfect person, that person with no ailment of mind and body, to chime in and tell us how things are working out for them! Actually, we are all tired of hearing about such people, because that is the protype of human existance that is blasted by all media all day long. The perfect, fulfilled, always-happy person is a lie. We all know such a person does not exist. We all know that no matter how hard we try, and how much we comb our hair, we have not fully lived until we accept the sadness, the weakness, the full pathos of our life.

          If there is a place called “heaven” where scars do not exist, I don’t want to be there. Surely, that would be the same hell that I lived the first half of my life. I would much rather live in the joy of today with God and with all of my sadness and joy and pain and emotions intact and fully experienced!

  • EricG

    Excellent question. I have terminal cancer, and have had a few organs removed to try to deal with it. I want the organs back and to have no cancer, obviously. But like Megan, I’d like to keep my 10 scars. They remind me of the things I’ve experienced, and learned. And, more importantly, they are an outer reflection of my solidarity with many others with these experiences.

  • This question reminds me of Katniss’ response to her skin in the Hunger Games, after the Capitol doctors give her what they call a body scrub – they fix not just the injuries she incurred in the games themselves, but also scars and calluses from being a hunter over the years. And she hates it, because those scars were hard-won.

    I like to think my reaction would be the same. I suffered for my scars and consider them badges of courage. That goes more for my psychological injuries than my physical ones, but I think the thinking applies to both of them. Of course, there’s a difference between scars and active injury, and I do hope I will be healed of the latter. But when it just comes to scars? No thanks, I’ll be keeping mine.

  • Naomi

    When Jesus rose from the dead he kept his scars…

  • Kien

    Adapt or Mitigate?

    I look forward to the day when we are all healed of our diseases and free from suffering. I can see that a “disability” might not be a form of suffering to the person with that disability, which is fine. However I don’t think this is a purely subjective issue. Throughout the developing world are many poor people who have come to accept their lot in life as “normal”. Humans have a wonderful capacity to adapt to their present situation. We have to be careful that the person who has come to accept her disability is not doing so passively. Just my view.

  • Tony, your question was: “Do you want to carry your scars in the afterlife?”

    My answer: No. Of course not.

    If, as the Bible purports, God will “make all things new” and will, upon my resurrection, make me “a new creation,” then to retain my old scars would make absolutely no sense. Sure, they are part of me in this life. Sure, one or two of my scars — the physical and the emotional — are an integral part of my present identity, inasmuch as the events which gave me those scars shaped my experience in this life.

    But the very purpose of becoming a “new creation” is exactly that . . . to become new, not to retain the old. Because, according to the Bible, the present body — with all its scars, be they physiological, emotional, psychological, neurological, etc. — is perishable. The Bible then says that the new body will not be perishable, by which we can conclude that it could not logically possess perishable elements or characteristics.

    And although the Gospel of John says Jesus retained his crucifixion wounds (Matthew and Mark make no mention of this; Luke’s Gospel mentions Jesus showing his hands and feet after his resurrection, but makes no explicit mention of retained wounds), let us remember that he healed the sick and crippled, gave sight to the blind, and put back the severed ear of the guard who came to arrest him at Gethsemane.

    So if we imagine that the resurrected life will be filled with blind, deaf, bipolar, dismembered, schizophrenic, and otherwise scarred people, then we miss the entire point of the resurrection.

    If one subscribes to the traditional Christian understanding of the resurrection, then one can accept as a matter of faith that the new “us” in the resurrection will be free of the scars from the former life, and that the absence of those scars will not produce a lesser “us,” but will be part of the totality of a better, more whole “us” as a consequence of the grace of God.

    • If one wanted to subscribe the the traditional Christian understanding of the resurrection, why on earth would they be reading this blog?

      Paul mentions a new creation in 2 Corinthians 5:17. I tend to think that the new creation Paul speaks of is the same one John, the author of the Revelation passage you refer to, is speaking of.

      God makes all things new right now. The resurrection is now.

      • Curtis, as you already know there are people of many diverse beliefs who read this blog. Among them, no doubt, are people who subscribe to the traditional Christian view of the resurrection. As to why they would be reading this blog, only they can answer that.

        At 2 Corinthians 5:17, Paul writes: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.” Of course, this is a statement about one’s chosen faith as a Christian in this life. But in light of 1 Corinthians 15:22,49, we can easily extend the understanding of “new creation” to the resurrected body. (I am, of course, not referring to the broader “new creation” of the world as a whole as we would read in the Revelation.)

        And I don’t disagree about the resurrection being a here-and-now experience.

        • Thank you. I appreciate and value all perspectives here. I just don’t think that appealing to traditional Christian views carries much weight around here. But if you support your idea with other insights, as you have done, it is very valuable.

  • When I was a child my mom coerced me to say the sinners prayer by telling me that if I did I would go to heaven and I would have two full arms in heaven (I was born with my left arm ending just below the elbow). In Sunday school I was taught if I had even the faith of a mustard seed God could grow my arm back for me. Consequently, my biggest disappointment as a young child was discovering as a 5 year old that Star Wars wasn’t real because that meant that I would never get a prosthesis as advanced as Luke Skywalker’s. It took me nearly 30 years to realize that these lines had far more to do with these people’s discomfort of something that appeared to be different from their definition of normative than it did with any reality or truth.

    It is this false assumption that there is a normative that creates this question in the first place. I am also crazy tall which is not “normal” for girls. Should I be wondering if I will be tall in heaven/the resurrection? Or is it just those who are uncomfortable with me being tall or having only one hand that want to ask that question or assert that I will fit their definition of normal in the afterlife? I understand people who have lost something they once valued (a limb, health…) wanting that back, but I really don’t understand why I would want to be someone else. Don’t we try to teach our daughters not to want to look like the airbrushed models in magazines? So why would be tell people that they need to desire to look like a similarly culturally constructed definition of normal in the afterlife?

  • Sharmini

    Scars yes. Diseases no.

    • The distinction is not clear to me. Maybe “disease” can be defined as any external trauma imposed on the body or mind? If I look at it that way, I think I can agree with you.

      • Sharmini

        To me, diseases are the damage. Scars are the visible reminders of the way the body has changed even after the damage has been repaired.

        • Many diseases are never repaired, they are lived with. But I think I see your point.

  • paul

    We think of the “afterlife” as a place where stuff gets fixed, set right? Maybe what gets set right are ones ideas of what is wrong and what needs fixing?

  • By the way, it is interesting that you mention 1 Corinthians 15, because that is one of the passages in the Bible that really nails for me the fact that the resurrection is not a physical, bodily resurrection. If it is a physical resurrection, the timing is all screwed up. Paul states clearly that Jesus appeared to Paul in resurrected form. Yet even the most traditional Bible scholar will acknowledge that Paul was not a Christian until long after Jesus’ assertion.

    I’m sure there are all kinds of logical gymnastics one can perform to argue that Jesus bounced back and fourth between heaven and a physical earthly form, and then mysteriously stopped bouncing after Paul. But I find it much more likely that Paul was completely serious when he said the resurrected Jesus appeared to him, and the resurrected Jesus was not a physical body, the resurrected Jesus was some other type of real, non-physical presence. That is my take on it anyway.

    • *ascension* (do they make a spell-checker weighted in favor of theological vocabulary?)

  • Elise

    I would like my suffering mitigated. I have pretty severe OCD and PTSD with panic attacks. I feel as though in the afterlife it would be great to not feel the pain and the sheer terror.

    That said: I would be less satisfied with the afterlife if my scars were wiped from me. I am shaped by my issues and not all the results are bad. The OCD allows me to notice things other may not; panic attacks have taught me to appreciate breath; PTSD has shown me the pain of suffering and through that learned compassion for the pain of others. Those are my scars.

    Those are just some of the scars I walk with daily, and I wouldn’t give them up. Even if I couldn’t give up the suffering I’d rather have it all than none of it. After all, with none of it: I wouldn’t be me. I pray that the afterlife isn’t full of vanilla souls, identical after “cleansing,” but that it is full of unique, vibrant individuals who through their scars embody redemption.

  • mary

    Old Quote, still relevant: “God will not look us over for badges, honors, or medals but for scars.” Scars mean I have lived and I have healed.

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  • Matthew Bixby

    I kind of hope so. It is often thought that Christ kept his scars from the cross and that they are his glory, and I would like to believe that I would in my own small way get to participate in that same glory. Though of course if I don’t I doubt I will really mind all that much as communion with God would seem to override the facticity of keeping scars or not.

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