On my right calf, I have a long, jagged scar, about 6 inches long. I got it the hard way, when I was about 12 years old. I’d been watching the Olympics (USA! USA!) and had become fascinated with the way the hurdlers could sprint so fast around the track and effortlessly rise over the hurdles without even breaking stride. I temporarily put my career plan to become a left-handed reliever in major league baseball on hold in favor of becoming a world-class hurdler. The nearest hurdle I could find was the fence which divided our pasture from our neighbor’s. It was just the right height, and it had a single strand of barbed wire running across the top of it. I would stand back, take a running jump, and try to replicate the hurdlers’ form as they went over obstacles. I did this for hours at a time for several weeks, and got pretty good, for a sixth grader. But as you might have guessed, there came a day when I only almost cleared the hurdle. I remember my right leg hanging up in the wire, then I hit the ground, head-first, hard. I lost consciousness for a few moments, and when my head cleared, I recall having two thoughts: a)that hurts, and b)where is all this blood coming from?
I also have a scar on my abdomen, from when I got appendicitis in high school. I remember waking in the middle of the night with a stabbing pain in what I thought was my stomach. I couldn’t stand upright, so I crawled upstairs to my parents’ room. Dad jumped out of bed, helped me into the car, and sped to the hospital. I remember him clutching my hand as the doctors administered anesthesia, and I remember that he was standing at the door waiting for me when I came out of recovery. He went with me to my room and over the course of my hospitalization, he visited me for hours each day, just sitting by my bedside and talking, or watching sports with me on the TV. The added bonus was that my aunt worked at the hospital as a nurse, and she would take time on her breaks to go to the nearby Dairy Freeze and smuggle me milk shakes, which were against my physician’s orders. She always told me I was her favorite nephew, but she proved it with the contraband ice cream.
By now, dear Reader, you are entitled to wonder what my point is, beyond sharing the thrilling details of my medical history. So here’s my point. I’ve been thinking lately about what Mormons mean when we talk about perfection. We imagine the resurrection as an event or place where our bodies are restored to their perfect condition. I wonder what that means. I wonder if these scars are permanent, because I think I want them to be. Sometimes I miss that exuberant, carefree 12-year-old boy, who thought it was fun to jump over barbed wire. I’m always reminded of him when I see the scar on my leg. And the appendectomy scar is a steady reminder, not only of sharp pain, but also of the love of my father and my aunt.
How then do we think about spiritual scars? Our theology is pretty straightforward — we come to earth to experience adversity and to learn by doing. We must experience the bitter in order to know how to prize the good. It seems to me that the trauma, both physical and spiritual, which is part of mortality, becomes an integral and essential part of our identity and character. Our theology also clearly teaches that the character we develop here will go with us into the afterlife, and that is where the hard part comes in. So many of the wonderful people I know are wonderful precisely because of some intensely traumatic or difficult condition. There doesn’t seem to be any way around it. Second Nephi chapter two is right.
If the resurrection means that we will be restored to the prime of our lives, I’m a bit apprehensive. At age nineteen I was ten feet tall and bulletproof, in fantastic physical condition as a result of running and lifting weights for several hours a day. I was also an obnoxious know-it-all, and quite possibly the most insufferable missionary the church has ever called. I’m really grateful for those months at a time I spent riding my bike through a cold, Schleswig-Holstein rain, and for all those lapsed Lutherans, whose reception was just as cold and unwelcoming as the weather. I learned that I wasn’t the center of the universe. I learned that real people have real problems, and that the only way I can help is by truthfully sharing what I have learned by struggling with my own problems. After all, we must remember that Jesus himself was resurrected with his wounds, perhaps as a way to show us that he understands our pain.