Scars, arms and saying thank you
November 14, 2011 § 3 Comments
I have matching scars under my arms. The first has been there since I was about ten. Clare McMullen and I invented a game where we looked after leaves. We made them beds in match boxes and polished them with milk. We had toys and no reason to be looking after leaves like babies, but still, this was the game. To gather a new leaf, I was climbing on some railings in the forbidden zone at the edge of our playground, when I slipped and the pointed end of the rail went into my arm-pit. There was lots of blood and general hysteria. I remember putting my hand under my arm and feeling a hole. Our headmaster, the perpetually cross Mr Roberts, put me in his VW camper van and drove me to the local hospital, where I was stitched up, given a tetanus jab and provided with an odd string-vest. Mum came to meet me and I got an Orange Maid ice lolly on the way home. For a couple of weeks, I was something of a star at school. I had to stand up in assembly, Mr Roberts using me as an example of what can happen if you break the rules, but that only added to the excitement of the whole incident. My mum received phone calls from other parents who had heard ever more exaggerated and fantastic accounts of the incident: my arm had been severed; the railing had gone right though my arm pit so that I was left dangling. In fact, it was all rather straightforward. I returned a couple of weeks later to have the stitches removed. I think I kept them.
Now I have a scar under my other arm. This is where the surgeon removed some sample lymph nodes during the lumpectomy I had in the summer. Much less fun.
Last week, I went to the Welcome Collection on Euston Road to see Infinitas Gracias: Mexican miracle paintings. This is an exhibition of small paintings, commissioned by families or individuals to thank saints for helping them through bad times, or, as the blurb says: Mexican votives are small paintings, usually executed on tin roof tiles or small plaques, depicting the moment of personal humility when an individual asks a saint for help and is delivered from disaster and sometimes death. The paintings cover all kinds of dramas, from lightning strikes to gunfights, motor accidents to false imprisonment, and, of course, ill-health.
It made me think about being grateful. If I get through all this chemo and surgery and go on to live a reasonably long life, I think I’ll be grateful everyday, although I suppose, as time goes on, I will stop being grateful everyday and just be grateful every other day, such is the way we forget. I hadn’t thought about the leaves and the railings and Mr Robert’s VW van for an age, and I can’t say I’ve ever been conscious of being grateful for that safe delivery.
I know there are quite a few people praying for me and, to be honest, while I am nothing but skeptical about the power of saints or God to save lives, there is a little bit of me, the “whatever it takes” part, which is thankful. The fact that these disasters and illnesses happen in the first place seems so unfair and random that choosing to thank someone equally random for getting you through it, even if it is a long dead man who helped animals, doesn’t seem so odd to me.
A bit too soon to commission my own tile but fingers crossed (ah, see how far I’ve some from similar superstition), I’ll be looking for a willing artist in the not to distant future. And rather than a saint, mine will feature surgeons and breast care nurses and people of science who are even now working their own miracles – well, touch wood, etc.
Take a look at some more of these rather wonderful votive thank yous and I think you will see what I mean.