Some of my most recent writing explored the significance of tattoos. I am perfectly aware that pop culture and others’ opinions often make a big difference in how we perceive tattoos. I keep going back, however, to the idea that we need to find our own interpretations whenever we see tattoos and stay more true to individual ideas than stretched-out, sometimes overblown stories.
Ever since I was in high school I have thought about getting a tattoo. Nothing huge or complicated, just one or two small symbols, like birds or stars. I think about these symbols and what they mean to me as a person, and then wonder how often the physical pain of getting a tattoo reaches the same degree of emotional significance that the tattoo holds. Since I still have not gotten one, I can only imagine the pain from stories told by friends and family.
I remember the first time I met a friend with a tattoo. He got it in memory of his best friend, who died tragically at a very young age. For a while, I didn’t think about how much it must have hurt for him to get the tattoo. He rarely talked about it, and when he did, it was in a very calm manner that made me curious. I sometimes thought about the pain of losing someone so close to you, but it was hard for me to relate to it. Although my grandfather had died, I only experienced a brief bout of grief, since he lived far away and I had not seen him in over a year. And while I had lost friendships, none were lost because of death. Honestly it wasn’t until a few months ago, when Trinity’s own Dr. Kearl passed away, that I began to see the world differently.
I was beginning to understand people’s reactions to death and tragedy. I learned about a different kind of pain and saw myself changing as a result. Though it’s hard to admit, before I was ignorant of how death continues to affect people long after it happens. Even with all the movies I had seen and the books I had read, I still didn’t fully understand until I was experiencing the ripples of tragedy in the flesh. I saw myself wanting tattoos on my arm, knowing I did not have the courage to get them.
Thinking about Kearl’s death isn’t as hard now. I still get a little emotional when I tell people about my experience, but I’ve healed and grown quite a bit. Even though I didn’t know him especially well, I found that my experience allowed me to finally understand a darker side of life. I know now that I will never view tragedy and tattoos in the same way again. I look at my reflection and see someone understanding and courageous, without tattoos, but knowing that I have the courage to get them.