I’m probably not the only writer with this problem, but I sometimes have trouble keeping my words on the page (physical or digital). Over the last few years, some of them ended up on my body. Some were planned for months, others more spontaneous, but nevertheless, they all have meaning.
My first tattoo was done during my senior year of college. Admittedly, it’s not my best; I drew the Hebrew “life” symbol for the artist, and it’s definitely the tattoo I spent the least amount of money on. But it’s special to me because it was my way of co-opting the Caplin male tradition of wearing the chai symbol on a chain. It was my way of proving to my father that Judaism still meant something to me. As a man who didn’t understand the appeal of body ink, this choice seemed okay with him. More than okay, in fact.
And since they’re so close together, I’ll just skip ahead to my most recent tattoo, done on September 25th, the one-year anniversary of my father’s death. I was cleaning out my closet and discovered a letter from Dad when he mailed the social security card I left behind in Ohio. He ended it with, “Love you, Sassy!” His special nickname for me for as long as I can remember. I forgot I had that note once before, and I wouldn’t risk losing it again. Now I have his words in his handwriting with me forever.
Tattoo #2 was done in Estes Park, Colorado, during a church retreat after college in 2011. That was a summer of serious grieving for me: grieving for the relationship that I lost, and accepting that it was abusive. “Choose Joy” was not some silly moniker, but as it says, a choice: one that does not have to rely on circumstances. That was the last time I dealt with grief in a semi-responsible way, but I’m so grateful I have that tattoo now, because back then, I didn’t think there was any way that life could get more difficult. That reminder gets more important every day.
That year had a happy ending, though. I started dating my future husband: a man who eagerly held my hand when we walked in public, which I’d never experienced before. Every “normal” boyfriend-like thing he did, from holding doors open to giving me his jacket if I was cold, astounded me. I honestly didn’t think I deserved such treatment, and refused to let go of my breath, always expecting a catch. And there was a catch, but not one I expected: he’d keep doing those things for me for the rest of my life, if I agreed to be his wife. That was a no-brainer.
When I think of the early stages of our relationship, I think of the song “These Old Wings” by Anna Nalick, my favorite singer in the entire world, which was released during the summer I was in Estes Park. It’s about a woman starting over after escaping a situation not too unlike my previous one: He raised his hand/for the last time she could stand/and their room was a grave at night/She left a note/Said I’m not coming home/He could courage, she took flight/And these old wings/Been a long time, been a long time coming/These old wings just gotta be good for something/Burn this strings, so I can see/What these old wings, these old wings can do. And that song is the reason I have a butterfly on my shoulder.
Two years later, I found myself contemplating leaving seminary, which turned out to be a toxic environment for my faith. Really, the biggest reason I felt I should stay was so I could get my money’s worth, but I realized that leaving seminary was the only way I could save the faith that meant so much to me. A month before I quit, I inked C.S. Lewis’ words from Mere Christianity, which is part of a larger quote: “If there’s a desire in me that the world cannot satisfy, the most likely explanation is I was made for another world.”
Because it’s behind me, I often forget it’s there until a stranger asks me about it. It serves as a helpful reminder of why faith mattered to me in the first place, for that quote is one compelling reason I still believe in God even if everything else is shaky.
Finally, there’s the tattoo from earlier this summer to commemorate my first book becoming a six-day Amazon bestseller. Granted, it was when I made the book free, so I earned no money from it (at least not during the sale itself, but I did from the 50 downloads that occurred after it ended). But money isn’t the point: it’s the recognition and knowledge that my words reached so many people. This piece is inspired by the quote “The pen is mightier than the sword,” which I would have gotten done eventually, but the unexpected success of that book seemed like the perfect excuse.
So that’s half a dozen tattoos total – I wish I could say I’m done, but I’ve said that before, so now I know better. People have asked me how I’ll feel about them by the time I’m 80, but I can’t answer that because 1) I’m nowhere near 80, and 2) if I do live to that age, I think I’ll have far bigger concerns on my mind. Like death.
Do you have ink that tells a story? Tell me about it!