Picture this: there are two deer, each with 10 point racks, standing on their hind legs in a forest clearing. One of the deer has what appears to be a bullseye on its chest. And, the other deer looks at the first and says, "Bummer of a birthmark, Hal!"
A picture, a few words — 5 to be exact — and the stage is set! I'm sure Hal lived to be a very paranoid deer; always conscious that he was helping any would-be hunter get a better shot! Gary Larson, creator of "The Far Side" comic strip, had a great way of giving human qualities and personalities to wildlife. His comics were often a single frame coupled with a one-lined zinger. But, that's all he had to say ... "Bummer of a birthmark, Hal" ... and in no time we can envision Hal living a very shortened life.
Funny, right? But, the odd thing about this cartoon is that I can identify with Hal. No, I don't have antlers or go by the name 'Buck', nor do I expect to live an abbreviated life because of an ill-placed bullseye, but I know first hand what it means to be the owner of a birthmark that's very prominent. It's not on my face as some people have. I was born with a dark, strawberry coloured birthmark that extends from the heel of my left foot, up the calf and to the back of my knee.
I don't remember when I became self-conscious of the mark, but I do remember one of the first times that I made an effort to hide it. I was 7 years old and I decided to wear long pants to my grade school's annual track and field day and I was determined not to be subjected to the questions from curious kids and less-than-tactful adults. When asked why I wasn't wearing shorts I recall making up the excuse that I forgot it was field day ... (something a little unbelievable given the excitement and anticipation kids have for field days before they realize running and jumping are not at the top of their skill ladders.) While fumbling for excuses I remember one of my classmates, Marlene G, showing me a moment of undeserved grace and offering some elastic bands to help keep my pant legs rolled up.
Playing soccer wasn't a big deal because you could wear long socks and it would cover up my birthmark. But when I was 17 or so, going to Gulliver's Beach and wearing black jeans on a hot, summer day was a regrettable decision! I think that was the final straw. It was after baking at that beach and getting an even darker farmer's tan that I decided, if you don't like what's on my leg ... DON'T LOOK AND DON'T ASK! Now, I'm gentler and a little more accepting of peoples' curiosity, which is all it really is, isn't it?
A physical mark, a permanent spot on my skin, had partially defined me at such a young age. Starting from a very young age, we let all sorts of outside influences define who we are as individuals. We allow things like a birthmark, the presence or the absence of hair, the size of our house, our height, the make of our car(s), the types of vacations we take, how much money we earn, our job, the size of bank account, our ethnicity, athletic ability, the brand of clothing we wear, sexual identity, our friendships, how many views we get on Instagram, likes on Facebook, +'s on Google, favourites on Twitter (I'll pause here and let you fill in some more because the list is endless ______) to shape our identities. I've heard it said before that we allow our net worth to define our self-worth. And, it's sad. Sad.
Look around. We're bombarded with ads that tell us we'll be happier with a drink in our hands, a diamond on her finger, a boat in the driveway, an in-home theatre, better-smelling armpits, fresher breath, tighter abs and skinny jeans. Really? Maybe, for a few hours, or days, tops.
I'm not immune to it — I still fight the temptation to compare myself to others. But, here's what I try to remember (and I'm not always successful): I was fearfully and wonderfully made by God (Psalm 139:14) and I'm storing my treasures in Heaven! (Matthew 6:20). That's all I need. I just can't use it as collateral for a bank loan!
Come to think of it, when asked by my epidermal inquisitors I should have replied, "Oh ... that red spot ... those are God's fingerprints he left behind when he made me."
Ah, story of my life ... always a day late and a dollar short!
And, after all these years — "Thanks, Marlene G.! I'll never forget your act of kindness."