He showed me the spot where the bullet went in.
It didn’t look exactly the way it looks in the movies. It looked webby, gnarly, like tree roots. It was a rise, not a depression. Sort of elastic and discolored.
Seeing that splash of torn skin makes you think differently about fake blood on Halloween. My friend who’s a doctor now said he doesn’t care for war movies anymore because he’s seen people hurt and dying on real-life operating tables. The realness of the wrongness starts to get you.
“What’s your name?” the boy asked in practiced English.
For some reason this made him smile. To know his English worked. To get a response.
“What’s your story?” I wanted to ask, but how do you ask that? He’s bearing an umbrella-looking scar the size of a fist. “Who shot you?” I want to ask, but I already know. He comes from the North, that place, over there, where people are getting shot this very moment.
He just sits there in a plastic chair on concrete. The sun is beating, and he’s just sitting while I stand. Him slouching, scarred, talking with me, seems somehow brave. It is always brave to keep going, as though nothing happened, but knowing very deeply in your rising scars that something very real, very raw, did happen.
We didn’t talk about his life. He didn’t bring it up. I was afraid to ask.
Instead, we talked about America. The cities. The bigness. The people. I didn’t tell him about bullet wounds I’d seen in Chicago, though I was thinking of them.
These are the visible scars. If they lift up their shirt or roll up a sleeve or pant leg, it’s pow-pow-pow all over again, right out there to be seen.
And then the invisible scars. Scars upon scars. Weakness within weakness.
Hurt people sitting cross-legged beside other hurt people, like the whole world is just one giant hospital ward.
So many gunshot wounds and wrecked relationships, lost chances and words that just wouldn’t stay unsaid. So much bad that we come to depreciate the gravity of it.
In Chicago last year there were 434 homicides. When I talked about this with others, we agreed that this seemed low. We thought it was worse, as though we might say, “434: not so bad.”
This is how far we’ve fallen. That we see the scars as natural. As normal. As not so bad.
The truth is, I don’t flinch anymore when I see all these dead people on the news. I have a list of morbid and tragic adjectives to call upon for headlines. The sound of sirens from ambulances and firetrucks might as well be birds chirping, they’re so regular. All this pain and fear and badness has become just background noise.
And that’s terrible.
Maybe the first thing we need to do when we perceive all of society’s scars and our hidden personal wounds isn’t pretend not to notice. We need to be more deliberate about being uncomfortable. Because once we get comfortable with scars, we start letting them swell. Once we get comfortable with sirens, we stop feeling empathy. We stop thinking What can I do? and just think Shut up with all that racket!
We shouldn’t normalize violence. We mustn’t become okay with sin and sorrow. As though they’re not so bad. Because then they just fester. And you can’t brush off the scars.
There is a goodness about being uncomfortable, about recognizing wrong as wrong. Otherwise, if we become indifferent or accustomed to what’s wrong, what will make us prevent more wrong from happening? Eventually, what will keep us remembering what’s right to begin with?
If all our skin is covered in scars, we’ll forget the look of smoothness. If all our streets are filled with sin, we’ll forget the feel of peace.
…or, worse, we’ll think things are smooth and peaceful when they’re anything but.
So be okay with being uncomfortable with all the world’s scars and sirens. Go for it. Because the day we stop being uncomfortable with the wrong is the day we stop striving for right.