A week ago Friday I found myself at an urgent care facility with my 8 year-old, Cort. Less than 20 minutes before, we’d been at the ballpark waiting for his older brother to play baseball. To kill time before the game, Cort ambled over to sit on a wooden step and took a swipe with his hand to clean it off before plopping down. When he started crying, I rushed over.
As I neared, he lifted his hand to show a huge splinter sticking out of his index finger. Splinter is the wrong word; “wood chunk” better describes it. Blood flowed from the wound, running down into the creases of his finger as he held his wrist in his other hand. I tried to calm him even as I started to whisk the chunk out. The half inch of wood that protruded from his finger gave me plenty to grab.
Things don’t always turn out the way you see them in your head. Instead of the wood slipping right out, the part I tugged broke off. Not until I cleared the blood away did I realize he had jammed that piece of wood all the way through the tip of his finger. Some of the blood had been coming from the opposite end where the tip of the wood had pierced his skin on its way out.
Urgent care, here we come.
With a scared kid in tow, I made arrangements with another parent to stay with my other son, John. I kept Cort as calm as possible and even though he hardly made any sound as we rushed to the car, tears spilled down his cheeks.
“They’re never going to get it out,” he sobbed, as he climbed into his seat.
“They’ll get it out,” I said, cringing inside as I tried to imagine how.
After a few seconds of silence, Cort said one more thing.
“I wish I had a time machine so I could go back and not do it.”
Yes, Cort, I thought. You and everyone in the world.
His statement bounced through my head all weekend. Many people say they wouldn’t change anything in their past, often citing that everything happens for a reason, but it's easier to say that when you know it's impossible to go back. How tempting would it be if you could slip into a time machine and erase a boneheaded mistake or reverse a horrible outcome? I'd have trouble narrowing the field if I could only pick one "do over."
But time machines don’t exist. At least not yet. So we must take comfort that those scarring events yield gems, ones our minds polish to a high sheen as we replay them numerous times within our heads. Whether the process takes minutes or years, that sheen ultimately burns this valuable conviction within us: “I’ll never do that again.”
Until Cort's time machine is invented, we should embrace our scars, both inside and out. I noticed a t-shirt a month ago that conveyed it best: Scars are tattoos with better stories.
As for the little guy's finger, the doctor pumped so much numbing agent into the top of it, the tip swelled to the size of a grape. After enlarging the entry point with a scalpel, the doctor removed the offending object with surgical tweezers. Know that Cort took the whole procedure better than I did. When I was younger, blood never bothered me, even my own. Watching your kids bleed is a different story.
Cort played the next day as if nothing major had happened, but wheels are always turning in that boy's noggin. Several times I wondered what flashed through his mind as I watched him lift his eyes from his Legos to stare into space. I hope his head is filled with time machine blueprints.