Ten days ago I fell off one of those push scooters on my first run around the block. The scooter was only a day old I had just given it to my girlfriend for her birthday and I had been up the hill to the schoolyard and around to the paved alley and a long gliding run home. It was a terrific ride, and at some point I even lost my self-consciousness, which is not easy to do on a scooter, the operation of which requires that one hump along in the manner of a one-legged person trying to run away. (Gracefulness is not implicit in scooting, as it is in, say, skateboarding, although the downhill glide can certainly approach the not-ungraceful.) Then I hit a few crumbs of gravel at the curb and the tiny front wheel jackknifed and threw me over and as I pitched forward onto the sidewalk I remember thinking that I was going to be fifty-three years old next month.
I lay for a moment on my side, staring quietly into the grainy concrete of the sidewalk. I could feel no pain and my glasses were still on my nose, but for a moment I couldn't move. I got slowly to my feet and then I had the scooter by the handlebars and I was walking carefully along, breathing hard and looking more or less straight ahead. I glanced down and saw that the third finger of my right hand was bent off at a frightening angle at the first knuckle, and before I could think I took hold of it with my other hand and popped it around and back into its socket. (This was an astonishing thing for me to do, and it gives me the willies to write about it now.) Then my left knee began to speak to me in the language of pain and I presumed that I had torn my trouser leg, but it was undamaged, and I remembered wondering a long time ago how it was possible to skin your knee without ripping your pants (a detail impossible to hide from your mother): for this was certainly the hot pain of a skinned knee, a sensation that had been absent from my life for more than forty years. I took a closer look at the finger, and I could see two puncture cuts on the inside along the crease at the first knuckle, from which trickles of blood were running into the palm of my hand. The puncture cuts had gone in at the extremities of an old rectangular scar on the same finger, souvenir of a wound acquired when I was eleven years old and I was taking out the garbage in my running shoes. I was running at the time, which is what you did in running shoes, and when I fell (pitched forward is how I remember it now), the garbage went everywhere and I cut my finger open on the edge of a tin can. My mother got me to the hospital and my father (who was a doctor and could tie a knot with two fingers inside a matchbox) stitched me up with a piece of black thread, which he knotted at the corners of my tiny, perfect trap door of a wound the exact same spots where these two new punctures had gone in.
The pain in the finger wasn't as bad as I expected it to be (aspirin, vodka, a noxious liquid called Heet) and over the next few days the swelling went from blue to purple to green and then back to a more acceptable flesh colour, but the puncture wounds hardened up and turned black and then grew into horny protuberances that felt and looked exactly like the knots of black thread with which my father had tied off his stitches so many years ago. As I brushed my thumb over them (repeatedly, compulsively), I could feel myself re-inhabiting the body of an eleven-year-old boy slightly out of breath from being afraid, and now proud of his wound and of the mark it would leave on his body. All week I have been shifting in and out of that other body that I had forgotten for so long, and remembering how as children we learn the limits of the world by surviving accidents, many of which involve falling. I recall high-speed bicycle chases down the long hill into town; swinging along the branches in the big oak tree in a friend's backyard; dodging the kid at first base and splitting an eyebrow by running into a nearby tree. Somewhere in there a broken wrist, a cast on my right arm. And always the scar tissue on the knees, the band-aids and disinfectant. Wounds were a confirmation in those days, and I discover to my surprise that they still are: I am confirmed in my wounds, and not humiliated.
It happens that I have been studying the history of miracles (looking for Arctic miracles, of which there appear to be very few), and in particular the stigmatics, whose bodies spontaneously develop wounds corresponding to the wounds of Christ on the cross as depicted in painting and sculpture. Stigmatic wounds often go right through hands and feet (in the photographs they look like enormous cigarette burns); some of them even develop hard black points resembling nailheads. Stigmata never appear in the wrists or ankles, which is where the real nails would have gone in, in a real crucifixion, but nevertheless stigmatic wounds are real; they appear where they have been represented to appear in art, in dreams, and perhaps, as in my case, in memory: stigmata at the very least are artifacts of memory, emanations (even proof) of a world that may no longer be this one, but a world, nonetheless: I know now that my childhood is still there, and this knowledge is what has been given to me: yes, the stigmata are gifts from that world to this.