It was 10:00 am, July 1st, 2011, Canada Day. While many were enjoying the birthday celebrations of Canada becoming a nation, my great event was arising from my hospital bed and finally enjoying a hot shower. The nurse greeted me with “It’s time Mr. Hillier”. And so the strenuous process began. A small woman with great sensitivity to my dignity and self-esteem, helped me roll out of bed, stand up, and prepare me so I could shuffle into the shower. Sitting on a stool, while water gently rolled down my body, she took her brush and soap-soaked cloth and scrubbed me clean. Was it embarrassing yes… Was it worth the embarrassment? Absolutely! There was nothing more invigorating than a hot shower after lying in a bed for several days. But the shocker came as I exited the shower and stood on my own in private to dry with a towel. As I looked in the mirror, I saw for the first time, the visible outcome of a four and half hour operation performed just three days before: an eight inch scar running vertical on my chest.
On Tuesday, June 28, 2011, I had been admitted to the Cardiac Unit of Trillium Health Care Centre in Mississauga for open heart surgery to replace a non-performing valve and repair a potentially explosive artery. Dr. Bhatnagar, a world renown and gifted surgeon assured me it was routine, but my simple response to him was, “For you yes, for me no.”
The surgery was an unqualified success for which I was and am very thankful. But there was no denying the scar. My initial reaction was “I have been scarred for life.”
Arriving home, and having to now attend to my recovery, I could not escape the physical impression visible for all to see. My wife Linda didn’t want to nor was able to really look at it, probably because of its reminder of a life/death situation. In contrast my son thought Dad was somewhat cool! But one morning as I was going through my routine, my attitude suddenly changed. That scar represented new life! It was nothing to be embarrassed about. It was a reminder to me that once I was facing fear and uncertainty but now I have comfort and security.
For me “Scarred for Life” took on a new meaning. Normally one may interpret or explain the phrase such that it means that the experience has made it so you will never look at some things in the same way ever again. The experience may have caused a permanent change in your outlook and this generally is in a negative sense. But “Scarred for Life” can also mean for the good.
One night I was awakened from my sleep and it seemed as if someone was speaking directly to me. Another thought, an additional perspective was revealed to me. As much as I was left with a physical scar, I realized there were other scars in my life. And more importantly, there were scars, or impressions, that I had placed on and in the lives of others. Some scars were good, some were not so good. I performed a mental inventory of those types of scars and the individuals that came to mind.
I believe that we all suffer from scars of one sort or another. The worst are the ones you cannot see and may never receive care and attention when needed. There are many types of scars, physical, emotional, internal and mental, and all are equally stressful.
Physical scars are obvious. They cause those scarred to suffer cruelty from stares and misplaced sympathy. Emotional scars are often buried so deep and hidden inside a person that it is harder to give help and repair. Outwardly some people look healed, but mentally their lives may remain shattered for years to come after witnessing or experiencing some terrible event or action. Internal scars may simply be the result of an accident, surgery or born deformities.
F. Scott Fitzgerald said:
“One writes of scars healed, a loose parallel to the pathology of the skin, but there is no such thing in the life of an individual. There open wounds, shrunk sometimes to the size of a pinprick, but wounds still. The marks of suffering are more comparable to the loss of a finger, or the sight of an eye. We may not miss them, either, for one minute in a year, but if we should there is nothing to be done about it.”
(Tender is the Night, 1934, Bk.2. Ch.11)
This all made me think of my responsibility as a person, as a professional, as a leader, as an influencer as an impressionist. I was able to categorize my responsibility in three basic actions:
- Intelligent thinking
- Appropriate behaviour
- Positive impressions
I then related these three actions to three areas of my life:
The “scars” or impressions I make on people, people that I socialize with personally, in relationship with professionally or lead corporately are the result of any one or all of the three actions noted above. I act from the level of intelligence of my thinking. And the impression I leave on people is the outcome.
What impression (“scar”) then have I made on people? Since my actions may leave a physical, emotional, mental or internal scar, this question demands that I stop and examine my thinking, my behaviour, the possible outcomes in all areas of my life: personally, professionally, corporately.
The lines of a poem called “The Scars of Life”, by Deacon Steve A. Politte caught my attention.
“We make choices every day that often come with uncertain stress;
Those are the scars we do not need; we can let them go or they will make us less.
Life’s journey has many paths; we can decide which to take; one of darkness and stand alone or a path with friends for a better fate.
We can control to much degree the kind of life we want to choose, to hold the hand of a friend, someone who cares, so how can we lose?”
After I inventoried all of my scars, I gave thanks, because each scar represented a lesson that allows me to lead a better life.
I discovered and learned two lessons:
“Never be ashamed of the scars that life has left me with. These scars mean the hurt is over, the wound is closed, I endured the pain, and God has given me a new reason to enjoy a better life.”
“Be very conscious of the ‘scars’ I am making on people so that the ones I do leave, in whatever context, helps the individual to also enjoy a better life, personally, professionally and corporately.”