Widening Ripples

I have a scar on my left foot. It’s about an inch wide, two inches long, and looks like a fat minnow without fins.

The scar is a rippling reminder of a late summer day, nearly four decades ago, when I asked my big brother to give me a buck on the back of his bike to a friend’s house about a mile down our rural road.

He was happy to taxi me and my long pigtails flying in the wind to the desired destination. Somehow, though, as we were riding along, sun splashing in our faces, my foot got caught in the spokes of the back wheel causing the bike to jolt us off and twist my foot like a pretzel.

ripplesresizedNothing serious came of this incident. No broken bones. No deep gashes. But the top layers of skin on my foot were a hot mess and had to be thickly bandaged. I had to wear my fuzzy slippers on the first day back to school and the weeks following, because any other kind of footwear hurt too much.

At first, my injury and fashion statement got me a lot of attention from classmates. But soon, you’re just a girl standing alone on a playground in fuzzy slippers wishing you were like everyone else running around in Keds canvas sneakers.

Thanks to our body’s miraculous healing process, however, cells and proteins worked together to pull the damaged tissues back together. Before long, my wound healed, and I was playing Red Rover and Freeze Tag with the others like nothing had ever happened—except, of course, for my nifty scar that proved I got up, got going, and survived!

Wear your scars like diamonds, they say.

If only the healing process were as natural and easy as that when it comes to the tearing of tissue much deeper than the flesh—those wounds invisible to the eye, those deep lacerations lingering by words spewed, stones thrown from one human soul at another, still raw and tender.

There sure is a lot of stone throwing in the world these days. On the news. In social media. On streets. From bleachers. And sidelines. Behind structures. On campuses. In lunchrooms. Across service counters. In social circles. And, sadly, even in our homes.

Hurtful words and actions, and even inactions, can stay in our memories for years. Instead of bouncing across the surface, unkindness has a way of sinking into our murky depths. We’ll probably never know to what extent something we’ve said or done, or not done, will echo in the life of another.

ripplesquote4I’ll never, ever forget an elementary school classmate of mine whom, for the sake of anonymity, I’ll call Ethan. It was explained to us by our teacher that he was “a little slow.”

Sometimes I’d see kids circle around and tease him on the playground. Not only that, but my teacher often isolated him from the rest of us by facing his desk against a wall and surrounding him with cardboard panels tall enough to cover up a fridge. “This helps Ethan learn better,” my teacher explained to us.

I knew something was very, very wrong with all of that. But I didn’t have the courage to say anything. Eventually, though, all this became public, the teacher was dismissed, and Ethan stopped coming to our school.

I don’t know where Ethan went or anything about the path his life took after that. My family moved out of that area for unrelated reasons months later. But I’ve thought about him many times in the decades since.

I can picture his face still so clearly. That expression of constant frustration. His long bangs, with his hair parted on the side, always draped over one of his watery brown eyes. Have the tissues that must have torn within him during those awful school days healed? Or have they gone unmended?

Although I was only 10 or 11 at the time, I’ve wished so often I would’ve stood up for Ethan, would’ve walked into those taunting circles and taken a couple hits for him. Imagine the widening, healing ripples that might have spread if just one of us classmates had attempted to do so?

I’ve been the beneficiary of much love and kindness throughout my life. But we’ve all been on both ends of the stone throwing. Each of us has come face to face with piercing unkindness, outwardly and inwardly, that changed the texture, probably forever, of how we view ourselves and the world.

As a mother, it pains me to know my children will inevitably experience some tearing of tissue and scarring beneath the flesh, too. But this precarious middle place of life I currently find myself in has a way of turning those experiences inside out and challenging me to see their purpose.

ripplesquote3There’s a lot I don’t know, mysteries I don’t have the omnipotence to understand. Like what’s the purpose of all this heartache, betrayal, loneliness, and hurt going on in the world? And why do some of us skip across a fairly smooth surface while others get stuck in the merciless rise and fall of the tide?

I just don’t know. But I do know this: There’s infinite HOPE and LIGHT in our midst. And whether the widening ripples springing from us help guide this world to calmer, kinder waters or push it deeper into the storm surge is up to us.


Hi, I’m Julie Jo Severson, former PR girl, now mother of three, freelance writer, editor, and co-author of HERE IN THE MIDDLE: Stories of Love, Loss, and Connection from the Ones Sandwiched in Between. I launched this blog, Carvings on a Desk, in 2015 to reconnect with my own voice swirling in the middle. 

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About Julie Jo Severson

Julie Jo Severson, former PR girl, is now a freelance writer, journalist, editor, and lost-and-found attendant for two teens and a tween. This is where she doodles about past, present, future clinking glasses and making peace.

25 comments on “Widening Ripples

  1. Yes, yes, yes. There is infinite light and hope in our midst, and I refuse to believe otherwise. It’s hard to remember sometimes, but we have to hold onto that. Beautiful piece, Julie.

  2. So much love and light around us. And so much pain, too. You’re so right that people’s unkindnesses stay with us. Change us. Change our inner dialog. Sigh. I wish we could stop anybody ever bullying anybody else. I can’t believe your teacher would isolate Ethan like that! I hope he’s okay. There was a girl at a summer camp I went to that some of us weren’t nice to. I still think about her. I hope she’s okay. Thanks huge for writing this. It’s beautiful (and I’m so bummed I never submitted to your book but congratulations!!!)

  3. I’m so sad that your teacher got away with mistreating Ethan for so long, but what a ripple effect it had – it sounds like something which has stayed with you and shaped the way you are prepared to treat other people, what you’re prepared to stand up against and who you’ll put yourself on the line for.

    I wish emotional scar tissue healed as easily as the physical, but I think it can shape and twist us in ways that are good and helpful – as you say, we can choose to be bringers of light 🙂

    • Yeah, I think you’re right, Lizzi. We can turn those scars around to be a blessing to someone else. We all have so many incidents and interactions swirling around in us that have shaped who we are today.

  4. Now I too, will be thinking of precious Ethan and what has become of him…

    And your beautiful words and message haunt and inspire me as always. I still think about a girl we decided to exclude in our popular group during a fourth grade weekend gathering. There were five of us girls who were tightly bound, and because she couldn’t make it that weekend (because her parents were the ONLY divorced parents in town, so she was with her father) we had planned to ignore her and pretend she was never our friend, come Monday.

    We declared us to be the “Faggy Four” and even bought t-shirts and had nicknames and signed a “Declaration” for our group. Kristen K, was not included from that weekend on…

    I’m still sick about it. What on EARTH were we doing? Why oh why did we do that? I can only imagine the crushing blow to her that day, as we walked around school with our t-shirts on, glowing in pride for our ‘new group’ excluding her completely. Oh the shame.

    My heart will suffer the consequences for a lifetime. *Ripples*

    I can only pray her scar tissue has somehow been redeemed, transformed, healed.


    Thank you, as always- for moving me to tears with your words and pulling my heart into deep thought and inspiring me to live with deeper intention and meaning. I could write for HOURS in response to this piece- so many ripples…

    And there are some terrible waves that almost drowned me in my life…

    Finding peace and purpose and even gifts in those treacherous waters can be the greatest fulfillment of a lifetime. I am forever grateful for that.

  5. Yeah, Christine, believe me, I have plenty of moments under my skin I’m not proud of. You sort of want to wash those lingering marks off like dirt, but you can’t! They are there for good. But as they say, are you going to use it to make you bitter or better? I’m trying really hard to focus on the latter! Thank you, friend, as always, for your thoughtful, beautiful reflections.

  6. I think about this a lot lately, as I have kids growing older and entering elementary school. Will they be spared? Will they spare others? I confess I do judge the parents when kids are needlessly cruel. If my kids did that, I’d be horribly embarrassed for life.
    Scars run so deep. I have a few. I love this post because I think lately about goodness and light, and how we can all let it shine so much more brightly in these particularly uncertain times.

  7. I don’t know what was more of a battle for me. I have acquired multiple surgical scars. I like that part about scars being like diamonds on the body. Or, is it the deeper emotional scars that have been harder to take?
    You ask some reasonable questions in this post. It’s a lot like the ones I asked in mine. The way I see it, they are strongly worth asking. Wish more people thought about such things, but perhaps they do.
    I can relate to that boy’s story, in a way, having been a student with a disability and working hard to fit in at school, speaking up for the same rights to an education as any other child, but I had help from my parents first of all. Not all kids are so lucky. It wasn’t always easy, but I got through it.
    Now you’ve got me curious about that boy too and what did end up happening in his life. Hmm.
    Thoughtful post.

  8. Great piece. I too think of the children in my past who were different and on the receiving end of so many slights. It all stings more now that I have a daughter with a disability…and I wonder about how she will be treated by her peers. Especially in the world we live in where people get away with saying and doing such unkind things — where they are applauded for doing such unkind things. Thanks for writing this!

    • I have a sister and a brother that both have a child with special needs, and yes, they have that extra concern, too, because their children are more vulnerable, easier targets, without some of the same physical and mental advantages others have to protect themselves and to process the unkindness. And, yes, to think of it is stinging, probably even most for those of us who love them to the moon and back. Thank you for stopping by.

  9. Heartbreaking and hopeful all at once – thank you for reminding me of the light that is always there along with the dark and that kindness wins. The bit about knowing our children will endure the tearing of tissue, scars is scary, but then that it has purpose? Yes, you are so right. xo

  10. You’ve reminded me of the substitute teacher who, instead of his usual verbal abuse, actually lashed out and split open the ear of one of my classmates back in grade 6 or 7. Wayne had cut his ear on the playground, requiring numerous stitches and this horrid incident took place a week or so after that. Ugh. I remember feeling so helpless. Poor Wayne. I wish I could press the rewind button and go back and right that wrong. Oh, to have a rewind button for many things in life. Here’s to much hope and light for us all.

    • Kelly! I thought I had responded to you. So sorry for the delay! What a horrible thing for that teacher to do! And how weird, that boy’s ear got cut twice in one week! Yes, poor Wayne. I hope he’s okay now! Yah! I hear ya about the rewind button . . .

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