The skin--the largest organ in our body systems, protecting all our other biological systems. It is resilient. We know this from experience. Think of all the times you've bumped, bruised, cut, scraped even burned your skin--to the point that we would call it "raw." Then it heals. Sometimes scars remain if the wound is deep enough, but not usually. I have one such scar.
August 1991. As a family we were travelling from B.C. to Dallas, Texas to continue our schooling as linguists/translators with Wycliffe Bible Translators. In those days we would travel in the early mornings, leaving at 4:00 or 4:30 a.m., while our kids aged 1, 3 and 4, would sleep. By the time we stopped for breakfast, we were half-way to our destination. That eventful morning we arrived in Wichita, Kansas in time for breakfast--only we had no American cash on us to buy breakfast. We drove around looking for a bank machine but found nothing on the outskirts of the city so we drove into the downtown sector.
We devised a plan. Doug would park the car and would stay with the kids while I went walking around looking for a bank, sure to find one downtown. So I hopped out of the car, turned the corner and was gone. 15 minutes later I returned, moneyless, but bleeding with large scrapes on my arm, knee and down my shin. And with a bruised ego. I had been so intent at looking at buildings, trying to find a bank, that I did not realize there was a 100-mile cycling race going on through downtown (I guess it's a famous race but I didn't know--I was a "foreigner.") Suddenly, while crossing an intersection, I heard people yelling at me from the sidewalk to get out of the way. I turned to look behind me and there was a pack of bicycles coming at me FAST! I swerved back to the sidewalk, hoping I too could be fast but alas, the cyclist on the edge hit my knee, sending me flying. He too went flying; My glasses went flying; His bike went flying. I laid there for a few seconds while people came running to me, insisting that I be taken to the finish line to be looked at. I said I was okay, and I was, for the most part. But honestly, all I remember was seeing the cyclist hunched over in the middle of the street, crying. All his dreams dashed by this moronic, clueless woman. Completely embarrassed and in shock, I convinced everyone that I would be fine and fled the scene as fast as my injured body would take me.
When I turned the corner back into the parking lot, and opened the car door, I'm sure Doug was in shock too. Blood oozed down my lower right arm, knee and leg. What had happened?! I tried to explain but my words were few. "Let's just go," I pleaded. He obliged. We ended up stopping at a 7-11 for gas and our breakfast consisted of foods bought from their shelves. It was probably the worst breakfast we ever ate in all our travels. Honestly, I don't remember.
I do remember that by the time we arrived in Dallas, my body ached and my leg was stiff. The concrete had rubbed my skin raw. However, I did realize that it could have been much worse--nothing was broken and I hadn't hit my head. For the next month, however, I could not wear anything that chafed my wounds. Often when I went out into public people stared, some asked what happened. I did not disclose much.
Even though we had only crossed the 49th parallel, I connected this accident with being a "foreigner," an "alien." After all, any Wichita native would have known what was happening that morning on those streets in their city. But I was just a simple Canadian bumpkin. Sounds silly but often the truth is stranger than fiction.
I saw then how closely we connect our culture to our experiences; Where we come from is so ingrained in us that we don't realize it until we are placed in a situation that should not feel that strange, but it does. We feel unexpectedly lost and slightly off-balance. I did not anticipate my response that day, nor the emotional rawness that went with it. But it was there.
I still have a slight "bicycle tread" scar just below my knee. It is a reminder of who I am, my deep cultural roots AND my need to be sensitive to other cultures as well. After all, I don't want to run anybody over with a Canadian tire.