When I was young, naive, and living in the suburbs, I swore I’d never get a tattoo.
I’m a rule-follower, don’t forget, and tattoos were against the rules for anyone under 18. I guess between that and my family’s adamant policy that tattoos were not classy, I figured there was really no good reason to ever get ink painfully and permanently scarred into my skin.
However, that started to change when I came to college in Seattle and, yes, saw everyone else doing it. It was really the first time I’d seen tattoos on people that were, at the risk of totally revealing my privilege and general lack of diverse background, ‘like me.’ I kid you not, none of my friends had tattoos. None of my friends even dreamed of having tattoos–until college. Then, everyone had one or wanted one or couldn’t stop with just one. So, all this made me comfortable with the idea of having a tattoo, but it didn’t really get me to want one. I figured the only reason I’d want something permanent on my body was if it was something incredibly meaningful and important to me. Up until last winter, I didn’t have anything like that.
But, as some (or all?) of the people reading this blog may know, I was handed the incredibly difficult journey taking care of my dad for the last 2 months of his life while he passed away from lung cancer. It taught me a lot about life, about death, about need, about ignorance. When I think about it, I can’t help feeling scarred by the whole experience. We can look at our painful experiences and call them ugly, or we can heal them, make them our own, and call them beautiful. To me, a tattoo is a perfect literal representation of that point of view. When you get a tattoo, you are scarring your own body in a way that you think is beautiful, meaningful, artistic, etc. So, with that in mind, it was my own tattoo time.
First of all, let me tell you this: taking pictures of your own tattoos is astonishingly hard. But, I promised my family pictures, so I did the best I could.
Part 1: The sailboat in front of the mountain
Part 2: The Southern Cross constellation (Crux)
For the record, you can’t see the last star on my back in that photo.
So, I don’t know if anyone is interested enough at this point to still be reading, but if you are, I’ll explain a little about what these tattoos mean to me and why I chose them.
Part 1: The design is really simple, but the most important elements are the boat and the mountain. This is the most related to my dad for a couple of reasons. For one, as long as I can remember, my dad talked about getting a boat. He had a boat when he was young, but he sold it before I was born. I think he dreamed that in retirement he’d be spending a lot of time on boats, maybe even owning one again. The fact that his retirement was nothing like he’d hoped weighs on me and reminds me how important it is to love life with every second you have. This tattoo is my way of giving my dad his boat… Taking him out on adventures with me, even when he couldn’t have them anymore himself. Of course, another element of this tattoo is the placement. My dad had a chest tube that drained fluid from his lung cavity. This was deemed my job, and although I am really bad with blood/needles/etc. I would drain a liter of my dad’s fluid twice a day. I wanted the boat on my left side, the same side as the drain, to remind me of what my dad went through and the importance of being a caregiver.
Finally, the boat is a symbol for overcoming the challenge of the ever-changing seas. To be a skilled sailor, you have to be observant, quick-thinking, and incredibly respectful of the power of the ocean and winds. The mountain poses another type of challenge to traverse, one of persistence and relying on the strength of your own two feet. I want to remember to hone those skills and to recognize when an obstacle is more like the sea or the mountain.
Part 2: The Southern Cross is a constellation very widely used for navigation in the southern hemisphere, but it can’t be seen in the sky from most of the northern hemisphere. It’s a very simple constellation, and the Greeks identified it before it dipped out of their sight (relatively) permanently. What I love about this constellation is that although I can’t see it in my view of the sky, I know it is just as present as the stars I can see. For me, this tattoo relates to my spirituality. I intentionally put one star on my back–where I will probably never actually see it, so that I could remember the very nature of faith–believing without seeing, trusting in something without knowing. That may not be ‘God’ as so many define it, but that’s okay. I believe in something, and that’s enough. So, when I feel particularly worn and weary, I hope I can think about these stars and remember that just because I can’t see how things will get better, they will.