Growing up, if you had told me that at 46 I would have not just one but five tattoos, I would have told you the idea was absurd! I would have explained to you how tattoos are a sin, and your body was not yours to mark, but should be preserved in natural beauty for God. Even if I had ever changed my mind and thought tattoos were ok, I wouldn’t have had one because it might cause another Christian to stumble because they believed tattoos were wrong. (And on and on and on…)
But like many things in life, early beliefs make way for new ones. Strict upbringings ‘devolve’ into freely lived lives. Things that were once taboo, are now both interesting and accessible. Tattoos eventually became an option.
I was 39 when I first allowed ink to be jammed under the second layer of my skin just below the epidermis. A rather large blue heron appeared on my right hip. The blue heron had always been my “god bird,” my totem animal. The majestic bird represented all the years before, the journey that I had come through to that point. I had just lost almost half my body weight, and my life was completely different than it had been only a year before. The tattoo was to honor my own experiences and courage to take charge and change my life.
According to North American Native tradition, the Blue Heron brings messages of self-determination and self-reliance. They represent an ability to progress and evolve. The long thin legs of the heron reflect that an individual doesn’t need great massive pillars to remain stable but must be able to stand on one’s own.
I took a tattoo hiatus after that. The man I eventually married was NOT a fan and he forbade me to have another. But I wanted more. I wanted all birds. I wanted a bald eagle, representing my new home in Minneapolis and the freedom I felt there. I wanted a Road Runner because that was what I had become when I lost all that weight, a long-distance runner. I also wanted a tattoo with two sand hill cranes, dancing together, because my husband had taken me to see the migration of these amazing birds and they mate for life. My husband almost let me get this one, saying yes, then no, then yes, then no, stringing me along, until it was too late, and we broke up.
After the divorce I could get tattoos again. But I didn’t rush right out and start inking up my skin. I took the time I needed to heal and figure out who I was as a single, divorced woman. Then I got a large watercolor dragonfly on my left shoulder.
The Dragonfly symbolizes change, transformation, adaptability, and self-realization, a symbol of self that comes with maturity. It symbolizes and exemplifies the virtue of living in the moment and living life to the fullest. By living in the moment, you are aware of who you are, where you are, what you are doing, what you want, what you don’t, and to make informed choices on a moment-to-moment basis.
During my time healing, post-divorce, I lived in Costa Rica. There I experienced my own eat, pray, love. The sunshine, the beach, the slow pace, the early sunsets, great people, a simple life, was all a much-needed balm to my broken heart. It’s a location that has always had a special place in my heart, and after living there for so long, the gift of my healed heart made it even more precious to me. Before I left to start my world-traveling journey, I got a compass tattoo with the colors of the Costa Rican flag woven over the top with the longitude and latitude numbers of the town I had lived in for 16 months.
After about 1.5 years of traveling the world, and seeing more than 35 countries, I ended up back in Medellin, Colombia. It was my favorite place in the world before I started these travels, but then I hit Berlin and it was instantly pushed back to second. Even though now it’s “only second”, it’s still a place I really love, and I was happy to relax back into the pace of the Spanish language and South American culture.
While I was there, I got a large very colorful tattoo on my upper thigh. It shows passport stamps of every continent I visited during my world travels. It also has a compass, a blue butterfly that represents my best friend, a purple dragonfly for me, and a pink butterfly that represents my trip to Africa. There is was only one stamp that represents a city, not a continent- Medellin. Yesterday I added a stamp to represent Berlin, my favorite city, this completed the image along with complementary water color droplets and colorful shapes.
I will also get a another brand-new tattoo, my fifth, on Friday. (I just couldn’t sit there another few hours yesterday, so we booked for Friday to finish.) I asked the artist to create another dragonfly to add to my shoulder. It’s also watercolor style with soft muted colors so it fits with the other. This one has the polyamory heart as the head/body. The polyam heart has an infinity symbol threaded through the middle. Even if I decide someday that I prefer to be in a monogamous relationship (God Forbid!) this time in my life, the relationships I have built, the people I have met, and the lessons I have learned while exploring and discovering polyamory will always be extremely important to me.
(Update: No Go! The tattoo I already got this week is giving me a bit of a run for my money in the healing department. Plus when I get a tattoo, I always feel a bit under the weather for a few days. Decided I couldn’t get a new one, while I am still dealing with all that. So- Tattoo 5- Dragonfly #2 is on hold for now.)
I am not sure what 17- year old me would think about all this ink on her skin, I don’t think she would be surprised really. But 46-year-old me loves that each one represents a specific stage of my life, who I am now and who I was at the time. They show my growth and remind me of my strength. I can look at each one and remember the lessons of my life and know there is always hope for the future. Each is a beautiful piece of artwork that I am proud to wear on my skin.
The Wicked Wednesday prompt this week was: “Go to Twitter, Instagram or Facebook and use the first thing you see as your prompt.” I went to Instagram and saw a post from @tattoosofinstagram, thus prompting me to reflect on my own tattoos and why I have each of them. Check out how others interpreted the prompt this week by clicking on the badge!