Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Markings with Meaning

On this eve of giving thanks I am reflective of all there is to be thankful for. Two mementos that bring on feelings of thanks are inked on my body, and I am often asked about them. My tattoos remind me that I am fulfilling my dream of seeing the world, and that I know eternal love. 

I got my first tattoo in Auckland, New Zealand. I was fortunate enough to travel there with a wonderful group of Iowans through Rotary International. It was phenomenal and one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. I had never been that far from home before, and it was empowering to have been chosen to participate in that exchange. 

At the end of my four weeks there I felt as though I had conquered something. While the trip offered many adventures, there wasn't one thing I could pinpoint that I had overcome, but overall I felt different having had the experience. I wanted to commemorate that feeling. I wanted something that I could turn to when I needed that sentiment renewed. It had to be more than a souvenir. A t-shirt or stuffed kiwi wouldn't do. I had wanted a tattoo for a while, but didn't know what it should be, or where to put it. Inking something permanently onto my body was a huge commitment, but it seemed like the perfect commemorative token of what that trip meant.

The moment the needle touched down for the 1st time
The Maori culture was fascinating to me from the moment I learned I was going to New Zealand. They are the original inhabitants of the land. They have fought, and continue to do so to preserve their language and culture. Much like indigenous peoples of all lands, they have been persecuted, enslaved, and treated as less than human. Only in the last few decades have they been regarded as an asset to the region. Their traditions, like the Haka, made famous by their national rugby team, are becoming something the country is known for. Although most people think of people who look like Lucy Lawless when they think of New Zealanders, the Maori come in an array of beautiful brown shades. I was often mistaken for one when I was there. Maori children would come up to me and speak to me in Maori. The language sounds a lot like Spanish. I picked up enough of it to be able to tell them I could not speak Maori, and that I was an American. They are an island people, linked to the sea. It reminded me of the Tainos who were native to Puerto Rico. I felt a connection to the Maori people.

Once I decided that I wanted a tattoo, the design took almost no thought. I chose the Matau, AKA Maori fish hook. It is symbolic of prosperity, abundance, good health, power, authority, and respect for the sea. It is also believed to provide good luck and safety while traveling over water.

The meaning resonated with me. It made me think of my ancestors who were fishermen, and my dad, who loves to fish and passed that down to my brother. It was a little bit of my history entwined with the exhilaration of the present, and my excitement for the future, which I hoped involved many trips over water and near the sea. The colors in the design represent the inside of a seashell, a delicate yet vital part of our eco-landscape. I put it on the back of my right foot so it will be part of all my forward movement.

Some people believe that tattoos are addictive, that no one can stop at one. I didn't believe that because I was satisfied with my first round of ink. However, after my second tattoo, I think there is some truth in that statement. 

My second design was almost a no-brainer as well. At Warren's funeral one of the pastors who is a dear friend, presented an analogy during the children's message that stuck with me. She told the story of waterbugs and dragonflies.

According to the story by Doris Stickney, waterbugs living at the bottom of a pond wondered why when their friends and family climbed up the stem of a pond lily they disappeared forever. What they didn't know was that they became dragonflies when they left the water. As dragonflies, they changed form and were no longer able to survive below water. Because of their new form, even if the water bugs saw them flying above the surface of the water, the dragonflies would be unrecognizable as the waterbugs they once knew.

This was a way to explain how Warren was gone, but not far. He would be waiting for his loved ones to get their wings and join him in their new form. At the time, and many times since, I have been eager to get my wings and see him again. The dragonfly became a symbol of comfort to me. To this day I notice them more than I ever did.

On the second anniversary of Warren's death, I inked some wings, along with two hearts and the infinity symbol on my left wrist. I wanted it to be in a place where I could see it often. I chose to keep it simple and colorless so that nothing would dilute its meaning and message. I look at it daily and I love it as much now as I did the day it was made a permanent part of my body.

Tattoos aren't for everyone, but for me, they are constant reminders that I have a lot to be thankful for, and I am proud to live a life I can venerate through art I will enjoy forever.

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