First Person

My daughter’s doctor recommended plastic surgery. We said no way.

(Kveller via JTA) — After experiencing a yearlong medical crisis due to complications with ulcerative colitis, my daughter, Nava, made a complete recovery. Miraculously, after a tremendous amount of hard work, she resumed her life and was able to live it exactly as she had in the past.

Now all grown, she maintains an imperfection — a mark, a blemish, a physical reminder of her trauma. On the skin of her throat, she has a small round indentation from the tracheostomy tube, which kept her alive and enabled her to breathe until she was strong and healthy enough to breathe naturally on her own.

Although the mark is not as distinct as it was more than 10 years ago, it still points to the fragility of life, the power of the human spirit, and in what I believe is God’s power in choosing who shall live and who shall die.

When a doctor recommended that Nava undergo plastic surgery to cover the hole, I immediately said no and Nava agreed. After all of her life-saving surgeries, she would not go under for an elective procedure.

Just as important, the mark exhibits Nava’s indomitable spirit and will. Apparently, the actress Catherine Zeta-Jones feels similarly; she once said of her own trach mark, resulting from a virus she contracted as a child, “I wear it as a badge of courage.”

Nava’s experience greatly impacted my work as a therapist and coach. After her recovery, I began to focus on growth through pain and, specifically, on the idea of beauty in imperfection. Though we are all flawed individuals, we all have unique strengths that we can bring into the world. Through our challenges, we can create a life of meaning and joy.

In the Jewish tradition, one of the great Hasidic masters, the Kotzker Rebbe said, “There is nothing as whole as a broken heart.” He said God is found where we let him in. We seek Him out and let Him in during our difficult times. Through healing and growing, we are always on a path toward improvement, though never perfection. Flaws make us simultaneously vulnerable, humble and somewhat broken. In our brokenness, we can become whole by rising above our adversities and finding meaning.

Nava’s miraculous survival and complete recovery gave me a new lease on life, too. I began to say yes to new opportunities, especially to those outside of my comfort zone. I participated in a Patch Adams clowning trip, foster-raised a puppy and became a public speaker — things I would never have attempted prior to my daughter’s illness. I began living my life with a greater sense of urgency. Now I greet my days with intention and purpose. I have a zest for learning and doing that I never before experienced.

Because as Leonard Cohen sang, “There is a crack in everything; that’s how the light gets in.”

Harriet Cabelly is a mental health expert and the author of “Living Well Despite Adversity: Inspiration for Finding Renewed Meaning and Joy in Your Life.”