Friday, August 17, 2012

Tattoo You (Or Me)

                I am inked.  I got a tat.  I have a tattoo.

                You read me correctly, I have a tattoo.  This was not some youthful indiscretion.  I didn’t get my tattoo on a night of inebriation or because of a reckless dare from a college classmate.  I chose to get my tattoo a little over a year ago in the spring of 2011.  One Monday, as I was walking around downtown doing errands, I walked into Decorah, Iowa’s local tattoo parlor, and made an appointment for a little over a week later. 

                But impulsive as it sounds, this was not a rashly made decision.  I had fantasized, secretly and not so secretly, about getting a tattoo for years.  The first time I saw a tat up close was when my friend Melissa had one done in college.  There, just underneath her collar bone, was a flower in full bloom.  My first thought when she showed me what she’d had done, was, “That’s amazing!"  My second was, "I could never do that.” 

                And I didn’t.  For a long time.  But I wanted to.

 After discerning a call to seminary and ordained ministry, I thought that a tattoo just wouldn’t work with the image of MINISTER I believed I was supposed to present.  Yet when I was serving my first church in Rockville, Maryland, my Executive Presbyter and Associate Presbyter, both cool women and both around my age, went together and got tattoos.  My desire was once again piqued.  I just couldn’t bring myself to go through with it. 
                  I had lots of reasons. They were expensive and I was always broke.  Did I really want to do something so permanent to my body?  And even if I did, what the heck would I want to have indelibly inscribed on my person?  But I think the true reason, the deep abiding reason, was that I was afraid.  Not so much of the pain of having it done, but of what people would think.  Maybe people wouldn’t like me or accept me or listen to me if I had a tattoo?  Maybe I’d be rejected or abandoned or loved less? 
                Sure those real reasons sound silly, but how many of you spend more time than you’d like to admit worrying about the opinion of others?  How many of you are afraid that your lovability rests on external appearance?  I certainly did.  I still do.  I work very hard at not believing that.  But it’s a fear that still haunts me.  I’m changing that though.  Little by little. 

                Honestly, that was a big reason for getting my tattoo.  I decided to get it when I hit a certain number in my weight loss effort.  But I really got it to mark not just the physical changes I was making, but also the changes I was making from the inside out.  To me getting a tattoo was a tangible sign and seal of all I’d accomplished to that point, and all I hoped to accomplish in the future.  It also didn’t hurt that I let my rebellious streak come back out to play after many years of suppression. 

                My tattoo is a circle of two flowers and green vines, and in the middle is the astrological symbol for Libra’s scales.  It symbolizes my constant quest for finding both beauty and balance in the world and in my life.  And yes it is, as so many call it, in the “tramp stamp” position.  But as I am not a tramp, then it is not that particular kind of stamp.

                A few months ago I was on an airplane flying back to Oklahoma.  A group of women, obviously old friends returning from a girls’ weekend away, sat in the seats behind me and reviewed their latest adventure together.  One of them commented that with all the fun they’d had, at least they weren’t coming back with a tattoo.  Another said, loudly, “I guess tattoos are okay for some people, but why would I want anything that everybody else has?” 

                For just a second I cringed.  Was that what I had done?  Just followed a trend?  A fad?  Then I brushed it off.  To each their own, I thought.  But I know that, pop culture trend or not, getting a tattoo was one of many steps in me becoming more uniquely me. 

                I am inked.

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