“Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.”Kahlil Gibran
Let’s talk about art and suffering. The archetype of the tortured artist has probably existed for as long as art itself. The idea that a person’s pain accelerates their artistic potential, or makes their art more significant, is one that seems to persist in creative communities. In some contexts, this could be taken to mean that broken hearts are the ones with more to say, with deeper truths to communicate or a sharper perspective on the depths of life. In more toxic places, though, this could mean pain being seen as a qualifier, a gatekeeper that has to be crossed in order to become a true artist. The suffering artist mentality leads to a comparison between hardships and close scrutiny of the quality and quantity of people’s pain. Does the amount of hardships you face determine how real an artist you are, or the importance of what you have to say?
I grew up in a household where there was a lot of trauma and therefore, I experienced my fair share of pain and struggle. We ALL experience pain, but I believe the amount we are given is the right amount to help us towards our ultimate happiness. I have been given many gifts of struggle and pain. I’ve experienced family trauma, deaths in my family, heart breaks and heart aches. I’ve experienced abuse, both mental and physical and I, like many others was the target of sexual misconduct in many forms. I was a caregiver to both my parents at times during their cancer journeys, I had a fiancé who tried to commit suicide, I had a friend who tragically actually did commit suicide. And I was diagnosed with chronic illness in my forties after years of struggling in pain and confusion from the lack of diagnosis. I’ve lost many loving and innocent animal companions along the way. And at one point, I found out I couldn’t have children because of a medical condition I have. So, as you can see, it’s been quite a journey. But it is a journey I wouldn’t trade for anything.
Along my own journey, I have also met others who have also survived things I can’t even imagine, endured hardships that when listening to their stories, bring tears to my eyes. I have been honored to hear their stories and be inspired by their courage and strength amidst their hardships. This is the human condition. Life is this beautiful experience that gives us character and helps us make choices towards our own happiness and the journey is a life long one and often filled with struggle. But that is not a bad thing ultimately.
We all go through experiences that tear us up, that break us, that hold us back or put us on the ground. All of us face pain, both seen and unseen, that is specific to us. Nobody is ever qualified to judge or measure another person’s suffering. The struggles we go through can widen our perspective, bring us empathy for others and deepen our knowledge about ourselves, but it would be a mistake to assume that pain is any sort of final, immovable state for us.
Let’s look at that quote again. “The most massive characters are seared with scars.”
Gibran doesn’t say the most massive characters are seared with wounds. The body produces scars from healing, from patching up that which has been damaged with brand new tissue. Over time it puts itself back together again, a bit different than before, but together nonetheless. A new normal.
It’s not that pain doesn’t have meaning to us. Of course it does. But there is also meaning in the time we spend and the actions we take in the pain that ultimately lead to healing. There is beauty and strength in the act of taking that suffering and moving past it or moving in spite of it, building something out of it and over it. There is a gift in everything. The scar is the gift of healing, the reminder of trials we’ve overcome and lessons we’ve learned. Healing is a type of growth after all.
Nobody who lives any sort of life can expect to escape completely uninjured. There will be aches that each of us faces; pain in our lives is as inevitable as the sunrise. Each of us will be scarred in some way or another- we can let those scars define us and be all we are, or we can let them exist as reminders that serve a greater purpose. As we move through life older, wiser, and more worn we can also hope to grow more thoughtful, compassionate, and self aware. A scar can be an opportunity to connect with others who have been through the same fights as you, a reminder to support someone whose wounds are a little fresher, or a call to reach out and meet those whose greatest hurts are still ahead of them.
Pain is a part of life, but so is healing. The universe holds room for both because both are important. There is value in pain for what it teaches us, but there is value also in rebuilding. If we value the archetype of the tortured artist can we not also lift up artists striving for healing, strength and recovery who fill their work with the effort and bravery of the process?
What would it mean to be able to hold our hurts a little looser, see their value as a part in our life but use it to build something beyond it? What would it mean to see our scars not as reminders of past failures, betrayals or low points but as proof of what we’ve overcome?