– By Samuel Moore-Sobel
“I miss my face,” I told the audience. It has been a phrase on the tip of my tongue as of late, a statement that has likely always been true but never quite realized. Strong emotions sometimes collect over time, brimming over years after their expected emergence. The past has a way of casting a shadow on the present, receding for a period of time, only to return with a vengeance.
The first of this month marks the eighth anniversary of the day my life changed forever. It was a seemingly normal day, featuring a beautiful blue sky accompanied by warm weather. It had been a rather pleasant weekend, spent with family and friends in anticipation of the upcoming start to the school year. My biggest worry – a little more than six weeks before my sixteenth birthday – concerned school subjects such as biology and the undertaking of my first Advanced Placement (AP) class. In retrospect, life contained a sense of sweet simplicity that has certainly been lacking ever since.
Recently I found myself in front of an audience for the first time in years. The story I tell had been shared before in similar settings. Invited to speak at schools and conferences in the intervening years after that momentous September day, the story became something to embrace. A sort of healing was achieved through sharing how the glass jar filled with sulfuric acid exploded onto my face and arms, causing me to sustain second and third-degree burns. “You’ll be out on the circuit one day,” a teacher at my high school told me after listening to one of my presentations. “I’ve been to enough of these conferences and I know you will get there … just give it a few years and you will see.”
Yet within a few years, my desire to share lessened. As time marched on from September 2009, my desire heightened to turn the page on this experience to prevent being completely defined by it. I wanted to be more than the scars I carry on my face for all to see, more than the emotional wounds I have taken great pains to conceal. That is, until a bold statement reignited within me a passion to share.
“I don’t think what happened to you was all that traumatic,” someone told me recently. This person’s words stopped me in my tracks. Racing through the halls of my mind, I wrestled with the implications of such a remark. Had I failed to explain the nuances of this experience, to show the inner parts of myself that had sustained deep scarring? Perhaps I have not let enough people share in my journey of grappling with the implications of losing my face.
We all have invisible scars. They may not be as visible as some of mine, but they are often lurking just beneath the surface. Who among us has refrained from experiencing moments of great pain? Incidents that hurt us deeply, resulting in the loss of faith in humanity. Past experiences are ones we carry with us on a daily basis, weaving in and out of the narrative of our lives in an often-unpredictable pattern. We cannot always smooth out the rough edges formed by pain and suffering; however, we can control how we respond to the waves of this world.
Weeks after my life nearly came to an abrupt end, my response formulated into a resolve to write. My desire to share is not motivated by narcissistic tendencies, but rather is borne out of a desire to share the seeds of hope cultivated within my own life in an effort to help others. This story is unequivocally larger than me, connecting with others deeply, as evidenced by the reaction of the crowd on that night a few weeks ago. Every single participant approached me afterwards, sharing their stories in turn. Speaking of their struggles with mental and physical maladies alike – some conventional and others not so much. “Your words were exactly what I needed to hear tonight,” one person told me after receiving an unfavorable diagnosis hours before. “You gave me courage to share my own invisible scars,” offered another. Something good can indeed blossom out of tragedy.
After years spent finding the words to assist in expressing the innermost workings of the mind and soul, my mother and I are nearing completion on our own manuscript. As we begin our journey towards navigating the publishing process and speaking to crowds both large and small, it is the stories we hear from others that spur us on in our quest to share our scars. September 1, 2017, marks the official launch of our website and blog – tools to be used in the sharing of lessons learned along our journey. For hope is not an automatic response. Hope must be cultivated, nurtured, and encouraged.
September 1 will always be a celebration of life for me and my family. A day dedicated to the creation of new memories, a celebration and reminder of God’s providence. My eyes and organs were inexplicably preserved, ensuring that my life on this earth was not prematurely snuffed out. Every year we choose to healthfully grieve over what we lost, while pressing on with a sense of both gratefulness and celebration over the life possessed in the present.
So this month, take a moment to share your scars with someone in desperate need of a road map leading towards survival. Revisit past experiences, parsing out the seeds of hope that can be planted in the lives of those traveling in your orbit. You too can make a difference by impacting others for good – even if you spend the rest of your life missing your face.
Samuel Moore-Sobel is grateful for the gift of life and for the ways in which hope sustains. To find out more about his story, please visit www.holdingontohopetoday.com.