Last summer, I visited a campsite with my family. We were all sitting around the campfire, just chilling. I jumped up and went to chop some wood. It was tough-going, as the wood was super-hard and knotty, but I kept chopping. Eventually I managed to chop several firelogs.
And that’s when it happened; the log fell off the stump mid-swing, and I went to pick it up, forgetting that I had an axe in my other hand. The butt-end of the axe whacked my left pointer fingernail.
I sat down on a chair, pushing back tears. I had made a big deal to the men at the campsite that I would be able to chop wood (after they had all expressed doubt about me chopping), and I didn’t want them to see me cry. I didn’t want to prove them right.
After a while the painful breathlessness faded, but I knew my finger was in really bad shape. It was blue and was nearly twice its normal size. Sure enough, the nail fell off after a short time.
I felt like a failure. I had been trying to make a point for my daughters and the other women in the campsite, but all I ended up doing was smashing my finger and crying.
I learned to protect my finger, calibrating my movements exactly to avoid touching it to anything. Anytime I picked something up, I would lift my finger up so as not to put any pressure on it.
After a while, as it always does, my nail started to grow back. I stopped protecting my finger and my movements became more natural. Within a few weeks, my nail was completely back to normal, and I had forgotten about my mishap.
What had felt impossible at the time was actually a certainty: things heal. Pain fades. Nails grow back. They don’t always go back to what they were before– my nail grew in mottled and dented.
But things heal, despite how it often feels like there is no path to healing. We are built to be self-healing, both physically and emotionally.
I had forgotten about my adventures in wood-chopping and my lost fingernail until a few days ago. I had been tapping my fingers against a book and noticed, Hey! This is the nail I lost.
It feels like we have taken a collective axe-butt-to-the-fingernail emotionally. Having to do a symptom self-check before we leave the house; seeing people only by their eyes and hairline as their mouth and nose is covered in a mask. Avoiding nearness to other humans, against all of our instincts. It all feels like a missing fingernail that will never grow back.
But it will. We may end up a bit mangled and mottled, but we’ll get through. And, after a while, we’ll forget the fathomless depths of pain we thought we’d never get out of.
Featured image was created by the author using elements from canva.com.