Tag Archives: faith

Permanent

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

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Part 2: The Southern Cross constellation (Crux)

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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.

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Christmas

I’ll just put it out there: Christmas hasn’t been my favorite holiday for a good ten years.

It’s not that I stopped liking Christmas. In fact, I love Christmas. I love the lights, I love caroling, I love cookies, and I love the spirit of the season. But as we get older and things get more complicated, staying excited about Christmas can get a little more challenging. This year, though, I enjoyed Christmas in a different way than I ever have before. I wouldn’t call it the ‘best’ Christmas, but it made me feel something new, and that’s a really valuable thing.

On Sunday night, my dad and I decided to call 911 and have an ambulance take him into the ER. All day, he had been too weak to support himself and had been drifting in and out of a clear head. Although I’m stronger than I look, I can’t carry my dad, and he didn’t have the strength to transfer into our new wheelchair, so 911 it was. Even though I knew my dad wasn’t in immediate danger, there’s something about having emergency workers in your house that amps your adrenaline.

My dad spent the night and all of the next day in the MICU, ironically in the same exact room he had been in the very first time he had stayed at the VA overnight. He didn’t remember, but I did. (It’s kind of hard to forget coming to the hospital after a 17 hour flight and seeing your dad completely unconscious and on a ventilator.) This time around, though, he didn’t need a ventilator, which meant a much shorter hospital stay. He was transferred to the main oncology unit late Monday night. We hoped he’d be able to be home before Christmas, although, I think both of us knew that it wouldn’t really make a difference; I think it was more like we felt we were supposed to want to be home for Christmas.

While we were at the hospital, several volunteers made rounds to say Merry Christmas and to hand out goodies. One woman brought my dad a really nice fleece blanket. Another brought a card and $10 for the Canteen. And a small troop of younger men wandered the halls handing out cookies and candy. It was weirdly karmic to me because my very first experience in the VA hospital was doing that very thing. I appreciated what those volunteers were doing on a really fundamental level. And even though my dad wasn’t one of the neediest patients–after all, he had me with him–I hope he was touched by their kindness the way I was. But even with their warm spirits, the craziness of the last days had wiped me out, and I had all but given up on making any sort of Christmas effort.

The night before my dad came home from the hospital, his good friend Gene met up with me to deliver a few strands of lights and a tiny Christmas tree. Up until that point, I had pretty much decided that Christmas was going to be pretty bland this year in terms of traditions and decorations. My dad didn’t seem too excited about the holiday, and I didn’t want to expend the energy if he didn’t care. But once I had the lights and the house to myself, something kind of came over me.

I can’t quite explain it, but decorating by myself, and mostly for myself, was sort of therapeutic. Maybe it was because I was taking some ownership of my space, or maybe it was because I was creating beauty, or maybe it was as simple as the fact that I was appreciating having some control over my life for a few hours. Whatever the reason, as I set the DVR to record White Christmas and I strung lights over door frames, I suddenly felt Christmas sitting on my shoulder.

It’s funny because the commonly celebrated theme of the holidays doesn’t often include the scene in which I found myself. Christmas is ‘supposed’ to be about togetherness, connectivity, love, and family. While those are all great things, this year I realized that I don’t think that’s what Christmas is really about. Christmas isn’t about any individual’s specific relationships or circumstances. Christmas isn’t about getting along with your estranged grandmother, and it isn’t about giving someone a gift they’ll really love. When I think about what Christmas is really about, I think about the birth of a humble, yet pervasive, symbol of hope and love.

Sometimes people find their connection to that spirit through family or community. But, sometimes we don’t. I think sometimes it’s more effective to tap into the hope and love we carry within us. Sometimes, Christmas is most beautiful when we’re all alone.