I have a new baby cousin and he’s 23 years younger than I am. And although he’s healthy now, the circumstances surrounding his birth are eerily similar to mine. I was supposed to have been born sometime around Thanksgiving 1991; I just celebrated my 24th birthday last month.
My cousin was also born premature, but not as bad as I was. And, before you get all worried, I’m totally healthy now, although it took a lot of corrective surgeries when I was younger to get me to that point.
One of those surgeries occurred when I was about two weeks old and left me with a scar stretching the length of my abdomen.
If you look closely enough, you can see where the wound was sewed up on one end and where the incision was made on the other end. When I got older I called it my “smiley face,” because it curves upwards a little bit and when I stood in the mirror, it looked like a happy face. I learned early on in life that self-deprecation and a sense of humor can go a long way.
I don’t remember the process of how I got that scar, but the story of how I got it has been told so often in my life that I recite the details now like I’m reciting an address or a phone number. It’s information that’s become so integral to my being that I don’t think twice about anymore. Sometimes I don’t even realize that it’s there. At this point, I’m no more aware that I have that scar than I am that I have legs. It’s just always been a part of me, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
My cousin doesn’t have any scars like that, and he’s growing bigger and healthier every day. My uncle told me he kept thinking about my birth and the way I recovered as he saw some of his son’s health problems unfold.
He told me my story was inspiring and it comforted him when he made hospital visits. I don’t know about all that. But if the fact that I have lived this long and have defied all doctors’ expectations gave him hope, then I’m fine with that.
The interesting thing is, I defied those doctors’ expectations because of my scar. I think a lot about the fact that were it not for that scar–that imperfection on my body–I wouldn’t be here to write this today. And every time I look in the mirror, my scar reminds me that my body is not perfect and that it never will be.
It’s a daily reminder that maybe the body I was born into might not be the one I wanted, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be a perfectly adequate vessel to carry me through life.
It also reminds me that, in the words of St. Teresa of Avila, Christ has no body but ours. Is it therefore wrong to hate our appearance? Because then that would mean we are spitting in the face of God, who knew exactly what was going on when we were created? Because then what does it mean to be made in the image of God?
I’ve been thinking about that one a lot lately. What does that even mean? The Genesis definition, obviously, is the Creation story. The Catechism says “The divine image is present in every [person]. It shines forth in the communion of persons, in the likeness of the union of the divine persons among themselves. Endowed with ‘a spiritual and immortal soul,’ the human person is the only creature on earth that God has willed for its own sake. From his conception, he is destined for eternal beatitude.” (1702-1703)
I’ve always wrestled with what that means. We’re not gods— far from it. And when I was a little kid, the very notion of being made in the image of God confused me because I wondered, if I’m made in God’s image, does that mean He has scars like me? Why would He willingly do that?
But God also took human form in the way of Jesus- an all-powerful God, who, in his wisdom, showed himself to us as a human who would eventually be betrayed, beaten, and killed. Even the weakest among us are made in the likeness of the one that created them.
So what if “being made in the image of God” means more than a way to prove humans were the pinnacle of creation? What if it means being in communion with the broken and battered Christ on the cross? What if that means being made in the image of a doubting leader about to be betrayed? Or in the image of a helpless child fighting for life?
And now, I believe that more than ever, but I also think it means recognizing “the divine image” of every person, regardless of station, disability or wherever someone’s at in life.
And that’s a hard thing to do.
But back to my cousin. I’m not a parent, but I know from talking to my uncle, it seems that he and his wife experienced the image of God as they witnessed the birth of their child. My parents said the same about me when I was born, and I’m sure I’ll feel the same way whenever I have a family of my own.
My aunt and uncle have already started calling their son a “miracle,” and that would be true even if he didn’t have to fight to be here.
Think about it: The very fact that you’re alive right now required a sperm and an egg to meet at some point in time to create you. You had to be born, learn how to walk, talk, eat, drink, and perform basic bodily functions. Then you had to grow up and experience everything for the first time and marvel at the world we live in. And that’s a miracle.
If that’s not a perfect image of God, I don’t know what is. The great part is that image knows no boundaries.