The Life and Death of My Tattoo: Postscript

People keep talking about my tattoo.

Everyone has a different take on the story of how I considered getting a tattoo (for very concrete reasons having to do with my disability), went as far as choosing artwork, and then decided not to get a tattoo when my 8-year-old strenuously objected. (Here is the story for those who haven’t read it before.)

K and A and several others were disappointed and hope that I reconsider my decision down the road.

M  and another K admitted that they thought it was a cool idea but, yeah, they kind of regret one of their tattoos.

The image that I intended to be the basis of my tattoo. It is a symbol of growth that continues despite severe injury, and of wholeness arising from brokenness. Scars—the broken place in this tree, my external and internal scars—reveal that even though life continues after severe pain, that pain means we will never be the same again. Because of our scars, our very selves will take on a new shape and texture.

Lots of people said my idea for the artwork was perfect. J suggested I get someone to paint my broken tree instead and hang it in my house, especially given how I see my house as a symbol of resurrection.

T admitted that she had written me a long message, typed painstakingly on her iPhone, saying that I don’t need a tattoo. My scars, she said, are beautiful on their own. They already tell a story. They already tell my story. She didn’t send the message, but worried over my decision, finally breathing a sigh of relief upon learning that Meg said NO to the tattoo idea.

That—the gist of T’s unsent message—hit me hard. I am so grateful for her and all the friends who, over the years, have made me understand that my scars and limp and crooked places are both not at all important and also the most important and beautiful thing about me. I’m glad that Meg’s “no” to my tattoo eased T’s anxiety, because I know that anxiety arose from T’s abundant love and acceptance for me as I am.

But…right now? These scars of mine—not the outside ones that everyone can see but the inside ones, where cartilage no longer softens the meeting of bones, and ligaments have been stretched for too long in directions they weren’t meant to go—hurt. And I’m tired of hurting. I’m tired of realizing that the medication I take (for which I am grateful every single day—there is a too-often-hidden up side to the use of prescription pain medications, which so often make headlines solely for their addictive potential and danger when used improperly) cannot make the hurt go away. It can only lessen my pain enough that it’s not the only thing I think about as I go about my day, but is rather an undercurrent. Everpresent but usually hovering under the surface, allowing me to be preoccupied instead with the usual stuff—work and kids and house and marriage. I’m tired of thinking, “If I am like this now—barely able to walk when I first get out of bed or the car, reliant on a walking stick for any slightly longish walk—where will I be in 10 years? 20?”

So it’s hard right now to see my scars as beautiful, harder than it’s been since I was a teenager acutely aware of how my body made me different and, in both my and some notable others’ view, less desirable. It’s hard right now to see my scars as me. Because the scars still, and more and more, sometimes keep me from being the me I want to be. The healthy me. The energetic me. The me who is willing and able to be active and engaged with my children.

I’m working on this, on both my attitude and on practical ways of dealing with my pain and disability. Like continuing to lose some weight, and getting back to regular lap swimming now that the kids are in school.

I share the aftermath of my tattoo decision just to say these two things:

1) There is no decision we can make, from the mundane to the earth-shaking, that everyone we care about will agree with. This is so simple and obvious, but I forget it often. For my sanity, I have had to learn (am still learning) not to care overly much, beyond a detached professional interest, about what some random blog commenter thinks. But I care a lot about what my friends and family and colleagues think. I like approval. I want people to love every single thing I write. I want to hear nothing but support for how I raise my kids, and the food I feed them, and the opinions I spout here and elsewhere, and whether or not I’m getting a tattoo. But that’s not how it works. I need that reminder often, to both thicken my skin and to own my decisions as my responsibility, for better or worse.

2) God has given me friends like J, who reminded me that good ideas, like my tattoo artwork idea, don’t have to die. They can be re-envisioned. They can be transformed. They can be resurrected. (J herself might balk at this assertion, as she is a committed agnostic/atheist. But she believed enough in my resurrection/wholeness-from-brokenness blather to make her excellent suggestion. That’s good enough for me.). And God has given me friends like T, who is able to see my scars as beautiful even when I cannot.

 

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About Ellen Painter Dollar

Ellen Painter Dollar is a writer focusing on faith, parenting, family, disability, and ethics. She is the author of No Easy Choice: A Story of Disability, Faith, and Parenthood in an Age of Advanced Reproduction (Westminster John Knox, 2012). Visit her web site at http://ellenpainterdollar.com for more on her writing and speaking, and to sign up for a (very) occasional email newsletter.


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