The juxtaposition of faith and life hit me like a slap to the face when I was getting my Beauty and the Beast tattoo colored.
After my previous blog post, I was given what I thought at the time was good advice, to call my local parish to request Communion brought to me at home because of my PTSD associated with attending Mass in person. But I was terrified–no, PETRIFIED, of calling the diocese and being forced to explain myself. It is difficult enough to explain these justifications to myself so I don’t feel like a terrible, evil person, let alone anyone else. My best friend called for me, giving them my information in case they needed to verify anything first.
It so happened that I was getting my tattoo shaded and colored that I was able to answer when they called. The first time they called, I didn’t answer because I didn’t recognize the number. I specify this because, when my tat artist and I were taking a short breather in our 8-hour session, he made it a point to make sure I knew he’d called once before. He also made it a point to make every word I said more uncomfortable than the last. I told him that I wasn’t sure about the timing for when he could come; I said that if he came when my mom happened to be home, it would turn into a disastrous situation. He claimed he understood, but then he kept pestering me about it. I asked him if we could meet off location (even going onto the property to this church, which happens to be the one closest to my house is not an option; there are more details in another post I’d written); he hemmed and hawed. He then decided that it was best to make the pointed remark that he called previously, as though I didn’t check my messages or my missed calls.
By the end of the conversation, I felt three inches tall, and more upset and angry than I’d been in a long time.
Then I got back into the tattoo chair, rolled up my sleeve, and let my friend’s and mine’s laughter and conversation and understanding soothe my hurt heart and soul. We talked about life, movies, music, and made fun of the crap shows I played on my phone while she worked on my arm. We talked about different traumas people endure; we talked about sexuality and the necessity for society to be open to that spectrum. You name it, we talked about it then, or in any number of our previous sessions.
In short, I felt closer to God in His companionship, friendship, understanding, and fealty in the countless hours I have spent being tattooed than I did in that terrible phone call with the Eucharistic minister, or in the book club I sat through where I was berated by old church women, or when I was attacked for days online for saying that Christ wasn’t a magic cure for being suicidal.
The actual markings of ink, too, have led me to a further understanding of the Divine, in overcoming trauma, in understanding the beauty of my physical body which had been hitherto hidden from me before ink made it shine. My first post on The Shoeless Banshee was on this topic, and I’ve always wanted to write on it again, but with others to join in. I could go on about the raw beauty in the designs, the joy in feeling like a canvas dedicated to art, and the reclamation of love for my body I thought I would never have, but I’ll let my friends speak for their own ink now.
I’ve got 1 tattoo – “Beauty will save the world”. It’s a Dostoevsky quote from The Idiot, but the reason I got the tattoo is because St. Pope John Paul II quoted it in his Letter to Artists. That letter was very influential to me as I pursued my Drama degree, and post-college, it continues to be the reason why I write. I told myself that if I wanted the same tattoo in the same place for 5 years that I’d get it (I’m not an impulsive tattoo-er, and don’t plan on getting any other tattoos, though I always admire beautiful ink). As it turns out, almost 5 years to the day after I first decided I wanted that tattoo, my signed contract came through for my first produced play! Now my tattoo, like my art, is a part of me forever, and acts as a reminder why I do what I love.
[M]y tattoos represent a memorial of moments and an appreciation of art in my life. My first tattoo is my daughter’s tiny little footprint that was made shortly after she passed. No matter where life could possibly take me, I have a visual reminder that she’s always a part of me. My second and third tattoos are far less poignant and more aesthetic choices. … I love the way I look and feel in my skin when I see the beautiful art and memories that live on it, and I can’t wait to add more in the future.
And, to finish this exploration in ink and tattoos and their relation to self, John says:
I got my first tattoo when I was 19, having just returned from the Gulf War and inspired by several soldiers I served with, as well as my late fathers inked up body, and [because of] my recent love of the martial arts, I got a dragon on my back. In the kitchen of a guy named “Tom.” That first ink got the blood flowing and I was hooked. In the next year or two, I had a few more. A large tribal piece on my back and Chinese writing on my arm.
I “got saved” shortly after this and of course the church I was in forbid tattoos. All of mine were covered up, but when I was baptized, all was seen through my white shirt. I refrained from getting any more ink while in that church, but when I left in 2003, it was game on.
I filled my arms up over the next 15 years, with mostly symbols of my Christian walk, a Sacred Heart, Christ on the cross, a traditional Woman with the Shipwrecked Cross, 12 Tribes of Israel stained glass, my son David’s name in Hebrew. After my conversion to Catholicism, the word KATOLIKOS in Greek, a chalice and host, and finally, after my leaving the Church, a tattoo of a question mark under the crucifix scene I had done years ago.
People will ask me if I regret any of my tattoos. Most were well thought out, some were spur of the moment, but the answer is no. Even though my faith is but a smoldering wick, the tattoos tell my story. A story I don’t regret because it shaped who I am today. Besides, my students think I’m pretty cool for having them. 😉
With my ink, I can say that I feel God’s shining through ink when I see myself, and that in itself is worth all the money or pain in the world, or any of the taboo reactions and judgments from people who don’t understand. Far be it from me to limit the God of the Universe, the Infinite, the Unrelenting, the Unmitigated, the Eternal. Even without my ink, I would never say He could not be found in inked arms, legs, necks, hands. If He can be found in anything else, He can be found here.
(For anyone interested in the AMAZING work I’ve had done that is pictured above, here is the ink to my tattoo artist’s Facebook page).