I got a new tattoo this week. It’s was my second time to get one, and it was one that I had been planning for a while. It takes me years to decide on exactly what I want, and where I want it. But I love them. I don’t plan on covering my body with them, but they are a unique avenue of expression and I wanted to take a moment to talk about them.
Tattoos are created from pain and blood. They are, essentially, beautiful scars.
A lot of scars that we end up with in life are from decisions that we made, but some are not. Some are from things that happened to us that were beyond our control. But in either case, we have the choice to either let them become part of our beauty, or we can try to cover them up, ignore them, hide them, and not talk about them.
There are some very, very upset people this week. And they have plenty of valid reasons for being upset, scared, troubled, angry, and worried. I have experienced plenty of disappointment in my life, and there is nothing worse, when you’re feeling at your very worst, your most upset or vulnerable, than for someone to tell you to “get over it” or “you shouldn’t feel that way”.
Not everybody heals the same way from disappointment, or loss, or grief. Not everyone can immediately shake off hurt and pain. Some of us have to sit with it for a while, reflect on it, and eventually we’ll come back to center. And sometimes, we have “triggers” that take us back to that place of pain, even if its been a long time since we were hurt. But we live in a world that’s very impatient with that type of personality. I know, because I’m one of the ones who has been told all my life that I’m “too sensitive” or why my feelings are flawed.
I woke up Saturday morning thinking about my cousin, Eric. I’ve written about him on many occasions. I can point to about 6 or 7 different watershed moments in my life that I think deeply and profoundly changed me as a person. His death was one of them. Saturday was Eric’s birthday and after all of the political drama and some personal stuff I’ve been dealing with, I got in my car and drove until I found a tattoo artist that wasn’t busy and got them to put some new ink on me.
For those of you who don’t have tattoos, or understand why people get them, I will tell you this: among the “inked”, memorial tattoos are a pretty commonplace practice. But as much as the process of getting this tattoo was for a reminder of someone I miss and love, it was also a form of catharsis for me.
This past week, I’ve heard people say, “get over it” until I want to scream. “Get over it” is such an insensitive and hateful thing to push on somebody who comes from an entirely different set of circumstances than yourself, and who processes things in an entirely different way. When something leaves a scar on you, you shouldn’t have to hide it because it makes someone else uncomfortable. That means the problem is with them, not you.
My first tattoo was a cross, created out of a vine. It references the scripture in John where Jesus says, “I am the vine, you are the branches.” This tattoo reminds me that I am nothing without Christ and that it is in him that I live and move and have my being. It reminds me of the source of my life and strength.
On Saturday, I had a hummingbird tattooed on my wrist. It was taken from the last profile picture that Eric had on his Facebook page, a photo that he had captured of a hummingbird in flight. I’ve always loved these little amazing creatures. I had actually considered getting a hummingbird for my very first tattoo, long before Eric passed away, in honor of Reagan. Reagan always kind of reminded me of a hummingbird when she was little. She was a very happy child, and she was NEVER still. She could also be very territorial and aggressive! And, of course, they are very colorful and beautiful, which also reminds me of my daughter.
This particular design though, and this particular experience, was about putting a visual scar on my body to represent a scar that I will forever have on my heart. It symbolizes inward pain being expressed outwardly. I permanently changed something about my appearance, because something permanently changed within me. And it serves as a reminder that even the most painful scars can become something beautiful. Because when I think about the ways that losing Eric has changed me the most, they are all positive. I have a heightened awareness of the fragility of life. I have learned to be more sensitive to those who grieve. I have a deeper journey of faith. And when I had the artist bring this scar to the surface and give it an image, I wanted it to be one of joy. I think Eric would be happy about that. Because he was a happy person.
I didn’t have to let those changes BE positive. I could have focused on so many negative things and allowed bitterness and hatred to consume me. I was pretty damn close a couple of times. But I didn’t. And part of the reason I didn’t is because I go through this very lengthy process of FEELING MY FEELINGS. If I had simply dismissed some of the things I’ve been through, either burying them deep within or trying to brush them aside with indifference, I would become numb. Our feelings, our emotions, our passions – these are what set us apart in nature. Without them, I wouldn’t feel fully alive.
And yet, all of my life I’ve felt flawed for being a deeply feeling person. I’m certainly flawed, but I’m starting to realize, being a deeply feeling person is not one of the reasons why. In fact, I think it’s one of my strengths. It allows me to have strong empathy for others and helps me to put myself in their shoes. It allows me to draw closer to God because it breaks down some of the barriers than inhibit intimacy. It allows me to feel great pain, but also great love. And it pushes me to be brave enough to show my scars.
This blog gets really personal sometimes. I’ve said before that, for me, it’s the only way to write. I think of a line from one of my favorite movies, “Whatever else anything is, it ought to begin by being personal.” In a world that seems to be increasingly desensitized, I think deeply feeling people are going to be needed, more than ever, lest humanity loses, well, its humanity.
Maybe you don’t have scars. Intentional or otherwise. Maybe you think scars were meant to be covered. I think they are valuable reminders of the important moments in our lives. I think we should wear them with pride, adorn them, and own them.