Emotional scars are so much worse. They change us. They don't always heal. They create limits on our ability to take chances and grow. We don't even consciously remember childhood traumas, but they helped make us who we are, good or bad.
My dad died when I was seven years old. At that age, death wasn't a concept I could grasp easily. I remember being surrounded by adults with very concerned looks on their faces. I remember my mom crying and me deciding not to need anything from her for a while. I remember hunting peacock feathers in the cemetery. I don't remember feeling hurt or even sad. I loved my dad with all my heart, but I didn't understand.
When I was ten, after mom had remarried, after gaining four more siblings, after finding my most comfortable state was reading alone in a bedroom (not associating that with lost time alone with my dad), we had a big, beautiful collie named Bonnie. I wasn't terribly attached to pets. I wasn't really attached to anybody anymore, having learned that attachments end badly. But she was a terrific dog, and in hindsight, I loved her.
Out front while she was chasing a ball one day, a car came along a little too fast right when she ran out in the street after a bad throw. She died. I learned what grief felt like that day. I could finally visualize what had happened when my dad was hit by a car. I finally understood what death means.
That incident shaped my life. It impacted how much of myself I'm willing to invest in relationships. It determined how hard I hang on to even unhealthy friendships because losing someone is unbearable. It started philosophical thoughts about life and death and played a big part in my suicide attempts in the coming years. Mostly it convinced me that we are alone, each of us, no matter how much we care and share and connect. There will always be times when we can rely on no one but ourselves. This knowledge is probably the root of my depression -- I don't really know, because I fought support and therapy and examining my feelings; I didn't trust that stuff.
Scar tissue is tougher than regular skin. We say we develop a thick skin when we've been through tough times. I think I have pretty thick skin, and I've learned not to worry too much about what other people think of me. But no matter how tough we are, some scars change the course of our lives. Anybody can end up rich or poor, with family or alone, feeling blessed or cursed, purely based on the circumstances life brings. We are not in control; we just like to pretend to be.
When judging one another, when avoiding the long-haired, dirty old guy sitting on cardboard, when deciding whether we can afford to donate to something, we wear our own thick skin and pretend we're in control and forget about the scars that life has etched into "those" people. We forget we sent them to war and voted for legislators who don't think we can afford mental health care. We forget that everybody doesn't have the choices and resources we do. We conveniently forget so we can avoid the pain our knowledge brings when we are confronted with it.
The United States in the 21st century is the richest country/civilization/society in the history of the world. But 20% of our people are hungry. Our compassion hasn't grown proportionately with our affluence. Caring for strangers might hurt, and we've learned to avoid new scars.