Aren’t you too old for a tattoo?

 I’ve always been afraid of getting a tattoo–for lots of reasons. One reason being that it would hurt (and it did, a lot.) But, more broadly my reasons had to do with the fact that people always want to know the “why” and the “what” of your tattoo story…Why’d you pick that and what does it mean? Why there? What made you decide to get it? Until now, I didn’t have an answer compelling enough to satisfy me.

I think tattoos represent something very personal and intimate about how one sees the world. They are documentation of your thinking made visible to other people. A tattoo represents at least part of your identity. Even if the tattoo is located in a less publicly visible space, it shows others (and yourself) who you believe yourself to be or what beauty you see in the world. The placement of the tattoo is part of the story too. The placement is an invitation of sorts and an indication of whom you’ll allow to see that part of you.  The idea that a tattoo is a part of your identity, but only a part always stopped me from seriously considering a permanent representation. Self-definition and identity integration have been very important concepts to me, so much so, that I simply couldn’t imagine an image that would fully integrate enough parts of myself to show the “whole” me, and I didn’t want a permanently fragmented image projected to the world or to myself.

I’m 41 (almost 42) and I have become what I want to be when I grow up. I mean, I’m always in the process of becoming, but I’m no longer trying to figure out who I want to be. I know who I am. I know what I am called to do with my life. Now the goal is to be and to live a better version of myself each day. This spring of 2017, I’ve been on sabbatical and I’ve had the opportunity to read and think deeply about how to do that. So, I got a little tattoo, about the size of a quarter on my right wrist, left of center–a place I can see easily and a place you can see when I extend my hand to you in greeting. How will a tattoo help me live into a better version of myself each day you might wonder. Well, maybe it won’t, but it is a visual reminder, a touchstone, of the unifying theory working in my life–one I recognized as working in my life when given the time sabbatical affords me to stop, think, and reflect.

And now, I have an answer to the “what” and “why” questions of my tattoo story that satisfy me. What is it? What does it mean? Why?

It’s a Tree of Life with green, spiraling leaves within a blue circle. Why the Tree of Life? Because it is an image both sacred and philosophical. It is the sacred image at the alter in my own church, but it is also an image widely used in most religions, philosophies, and myths connecting all forms of creation. For me, the tree with the shape of the cross within it reminds me that I do have a calling, and while it is my calling, it is not a ministry. It is resistance and liberation. In Promise of the Paradox, Parker Palmer says, ” The older word for liberation is salvation…for its root meaning is “wholeness.” To be saved is to be made whole…The liberation of the cross frees us not for indulgence and ease but for the discipline of serving truth without fearing the contractions…But as I live in that resistance–as I acknowledge and confess it to myself and others–slowly my life is pulled open.”  The tree and the cross remind me of what I’m called to do and that I need to remember to be pulled open, not pulled apart, by it.

The green spiral leaves on the tree remind me that there is always a chance for renewal and new growth. The spiral shape is a constant reminder that our own growth has an outward ripple effect. And, the blue dots encircling the tree represent the many and the one bigger community(ies) in which I am rooted. Palmer reminds us that…“[T]here are circles within circles within circles, world without end. And his words remind me that we must always keep space open to invite others into community with us, even (and especially) those who challenge us. Palmer says, “In a true community, we will not choose our companions, for our choices are always limited by self-serving motives…In fact, we might define true community as that place where the person you least want to live with always lives…[C]ommunity comes as a by-product of commitment and struggle…community is a product of love in action and not of simple self-interest.”

There’s my tattoo story. What it is; what it means; why I got it. This tattoo is my public and visual declaration of who and how I want to be in the world. I recognize that I will fail to live up to this again and again. But it is my hope that any failure in what I cannot do will strengthen my discovery of what I can do and that I’ll continue to “learn that our gifts vary, with each person possessing some of what we need but no one possessing it all.

Comments are closed.