Ashley had several epic bruises every softball season. Shades of dark purple, green and yellow strewn across her arms and legs. She was our team catcher, and she was fearless.
I played softball through eighth grade. After that, I served as statistician. Growing up, softball-induced bruises were somewhat of a badge of honor. They exemplified courage and hard work. Most of the girls on the team got at least a few every year.
I never got any significant bruises due to my long-standing, safety-first approach to athletics and a fear of sliding into bases. But I was often in awe of the multicolored contusions of my teammates.
I didn't pay much attention to bruises again until four years ago when I got diagnosed with Immune Thrombocytopenic Purpura (ITP); that's the official name of my platelet condition. Without enough platelets in the blood, bruises occur more frequently.
The moment I see a bruise appear nowadays, I get a knot in my gut. Instead of a badge of honor, they seem like a thorn in my side. Bruises are a reminder to me of a diagnosis from which I long for a permanent break-up but haven't yet discerned a way to make the split.
In a recent attempt to make peace with my bruises, I did some research. I discovered that while inconvenient and unsightly, bruises are actually pretty amazing. They are a visual reminder of healing that is taking place deep within the layers of skin and blood vessels.
Most of the time, the body knows how to best respond when a bump or mild trauma occurs to the skin, and this is good news.
According to kidshealth.org, a bruise occurs when there is a trauma or impact to the body. The small veins and capillaries around the site break open, and then red blood cells seep out. Slowly but surely, the body reabsorbs those red blood cells. The changing colors of a bruise are a sign that the body is healing, but the process takes time.
Sometimes the bruises we carry are more of the internal, metaphorical kind. They aren't as easy to see. These emotional bruises exist inside, the remnants of hurtful words, painful experiences and deep loss. The healing process of these kinds of bruises takes time as well.
For our metaphorical bruises, they, too, are a reminder. A reminder that we've been through something tough and perhaps even excruciating. Yet even so, healing is taking place. Sometimes we wish our emotional bruises would just heal faster. We immediately want to be "over it" or "through it" or "out of it." Yet we still find ourselves "in the thick of it." Healing, in all its forms, takes patience. Sometimes it takes all the patience we can muster.
Bruises happen. On the inside and the outside. So we have to monitor them. If they are especially cumbersome or painful, we may need to call for backup: a doctor for a physical bruise or a counselor for an emotional bruise.
We can do our best to avoid them. But when they do occur, perhaps bruises can also serve as an important reminder: Healing comes in many forms. Oftentimes it is happening deep within, even when it doesn't necessarily feel like it.
I am reminded of a verse from the Gospel of Luke. First, Jesus heals a man. Chapter 5, verse 26 continues with the crowd's collective response, "They were filled with awe and said, 'We have seen remarkable things today.'"
The more I learn about the human body, the more I stand in awe of its complexities. Bruises, both on the outside and the inside, reveal an active, ongoing process of healing. And that is quite remarkable.