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Praying In Ink

May 3, 2011
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Turning 30 will make a man stop and think about a few things.  Things like, “How the hell did this happen?” and “How many toys can I milk out of this travesty?”  Or maybe that’s just me.  But I do think it’s natural for us to pause and take stock at such mile markers in life.  For me, the first thirty years, I would have to say, have been marked by searching for a clue as to what in the world I’m supposed to be doing with my life.

Some people know what they want to do and do it.  Those people annoy me.   Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy for anyone who has a clear vision of who they are and what their calling is and pursues it, but I still kind of want to trip them in the hallway on behalf of those of us who don’t have it so easy.  I know, I’m envious and a little petty.  I’ve made peace with that.  But I digress…

Getting back to the idea of mile markers, I knew I wanted to do something to mark turning 30, because despite all the not knowing, I have come a long way and I have hope that this journey has a purpose and will make sense in the end.  And I don’t care what anyone says, turning 30 is a big deal.  It’s a third of your life, for crying out loud;  unless you live in Okinawa, of course, in which case it’s more like a fourth.  Seriously, what kind of Mr. Miyagi voodoo are those people working with, and where can I get some?

Anyway, back on topic.  I’ve read that sailors used to get swallow tattoos after traveling 5,000 miles at sea.  Well, I’ve never sailed and I have a history of losing consciousness around needles, so, naturally, I felt the perfect way to mark my 30th birthday was with a swallow tattoo.  Makes perfect sense, right?  Well, it will in a minute.  Bear with me.

I figure 30 years has got to be somewhat comparable to 5,000 nautical miles.  I don’t have a conversion chart to prove that, but it sounds about right.  More importantly, swallows were a sign of hope for sailors, as they would alight on ships when they were close to land.  And solid ground is somewhere I would very much like to get to one day. Metaphorically speaking, of course.  I’m currently writing this on actual solid ground.  Well, ground as solid as New Orleans ground gets.  You get the idea.

So, you see, there is a logic at work here.  But why stop at a single swallow?  This is a third of my life we’re talking about.  This demands a scene!  Enter the nautical stars, specifically two regulars and one North Star.  The North Star was used by sailors to guide them through the night and to bring them home safely. And if you look closely, you’ll see that the color pattern of the North Star (the one the swallow is following) is different from the other two nautical stars.  It’s subtle, and for the record, not tied to any color pattern tradition concerning nautical/North stars – I just wanted that one to be different for my own symbolic purposes – but it’s one of my favorite things about the tattoo.

Finally, the anchor rounds out the nautical portion of the tattoo.  Anchors traditionally symbolize a steady course through rough weather and protection from storms that would otherwise dash a ship on the rocks.  Now, I don’t care who you are, life has a way of tossing you around and if you don’t have something to hold on to that keeps you grounded, you’re in trouble.  So anchors, much like sliced bread, are just a good idea.  All right, that just about covers the nautical part of the tattoo.  If you’re keeping score, you’ll see that we’ve got symbols of hope, guidance and protection that simultaneously mark the passage of time and speak of hope for the future all tied together in a single theme.  Now we’re talking.

Tattoo Phases

The progression of a tattoo. It hurts so good.

Well, that’s one way of looking at it.  The real genesis of this tattoo, however, was Matthew 6:26:

Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? (NIV)

Sounds pretty good to someone still trying to find their way.  So not only is the swallow a mile marker and a symbol of hope, it is also a reminder that I’m important in God’s eyes, regardless of how anyone else, myself included, thinks or feels about me at a particular time.  And if He watches over them, He will surely watch over me.  Also, in addition to the meanings mentioned above, the anchor was used by early Christians as a disguised cross.  Like the fish, it was a way to identify oneself as a Christian while escaping persecution from Rome.  They had lions and they weren’t afraid to use them.  And, I’ve got to say, I do like a good hidden meaning.  Also, there’s Hebrews 6:19:

We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain… (NIV)

Sweet.  I happen to like security very much and I’ll take it where I can get it.  I’ve already mentioned the fact that I don’t know what I’m doing half the time, so it’s nice to have the guidance of Someone who does.  Finally, the North Star, currently the star Polaris.  By the way, the role of the North Star passes to a different star every few thousand years.  Who knew?  Regardless, it always appears due north and, from our perspective, remains stationary while other stars revolve around it on their respective paths.  In other words, it’s constant.  Like God.  We can follow it’s direction or not, but it’s there all the same, pointing the way ahead.

If you put all of that together, you get one of two visuals.  One: A picture of the Trinity.  Granted, the Holy Spirit is usually represented by a dove, but a dove doesn’t really fit in with the nautical theme I’ve got going, so work with me.  Two: The swallow is me, anchored in faith and trying to follow the signposts that God sets up.  See, I’m working on two levels.  Count them: one, two.  There is some major allegory going down here, people!

Now, on to the Irish portion of the tattoo.  First, the Claddagh (that’s the hands, heart and crown, for all you non-Irish).  The Claddagh serves two purposes.  One, it’s Irish.  At this point, I’m just going to assume that you can look at my pasty complexion and connect the dots as to where my family is largely from.  The hands stand for friendship, the heart for love, and the crown for loyalty.  I’ve seen the overall message stated as  “Let friendship and love reign forever.”

Now, whether it’s from being an only child or it’s just my personality, I’m not a people person.  Left on my own, I’m very happy to live in my little Aaron bubble.  It’s nice there and the only one who misplaces my toys is me.  However, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized the importance of sharing life and putting more effort in developing friendships.  The Claddagh is a reminder to me that we are meant to live life in community and not in isolation.  So I’m currently trying to get over my instinct that people, by and large, suck and be more open to letting people into my life.  New Orleans traffic is not helping with this endeavor to change my opinion, but I’m dealing.  God, help me, I’m dealing.  I’m even writing a blog post about my personal reasons for getting a tattoo.  That’s a start, right?

One more quick word about the Claddagh.  If you notice, the tattoo is on my left arm.  This is significant as it concerns the Claddagh because it also has romantic/marriage connotations.  This aspect of its meaning is summed up this way: “With these hands, I give you my heart and crown it with my love.”  One can even signal their relationship status by which hand they wear a Claddagh ring on and in which direction it’s pointing.  If worn on the left ring finger, it signifies that the wearer is married, which I am.  Sorry, ladies.  Technically, this is on my arm and it’s supposed to be upside down, but you get the picture.

Now, finally, the pièce de résistance that brings the whole thing together: the quote banner at the bottom.  It says “BY THIS LOVE.”  It’s from “Mysterious Ways” by U2, which just happens to be the best thing to come out of Ireland since green and is my favorite band of all time.  The full quote is actually “One day you’ll look back and you’ll see where you were held now by this love. While you could stand there, you could move on this moment, follow this feeling.”  It’s a great line, but since I don’t have elephantiasis of the wrist, I had to cut it down a little.  And, as with many U2 songs, it’s either about God or a girl or, in this case, both.  One interpretation of the song is that it presents the Holy Spirit as a woman wooing and directing a man in the way he should go and teaching him things he can’t explain.  As the quote pertains to the tattoo, it reaffirms the need for help and guidance as well as the importance of both divine and earthly love/relationships in helping us become the people we were created to be and carrying us through the storms of life.  It also echoes Matthew 22:37-40,  where Jesus responds to the question of what was the greatest commandment:

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (NIV)

So there it is: the obvious and the not-so-obvious.  The paint and the story behind it.  When I look at it, I see a prayer.  A constant prayer that will be answered over and over throughout my life.  A prayer that acknowledges my weakness as well as my hope in the strength and faithfulness of the One who said He would show me the way to go and promised never to abandon me.  A prayer for the courage to break down the walls I’ve built around myself that keep others out and even my best friends at bay sometimes.  And a prayer for the strength to love others the way that I’m loved.  This isn’t going to be easy.  Maybe, if I’m fortunate, I’ll have these virtues somewhat down by the time I’m sixty.  We’ll see.

Tattoo and Guitar

Happy Birthday to me. So far, 30 is looking and sounding pretty sweet.

Some people are confident enough to do crossword puzzles in ink.  I’m not.  I get stuff wrong all the time.  And when it comes to life, I definitely don’t have all the answers, but I have faith in the One who does.  And while that faith does ebb and flow, it is always there.  It’s permanent.  Like ink on paper.  Like tattooed lines beneath the skin.

Now, as far as the tattoo process itself, I didn’t see a single centimeter of it actually take place.  I looked away the entire time.  Anyone who knows me will tell you that I don’t like needles.  Just ask anyone in my 8th grade English class, where I passed out from just reading a story about donating blood.  FYI: If you ever find yourself in such a situation, just take it in stride because you’re not going to live it down.  Fact.

So how did I get through it?  I went in with a plan.  First, I asked a couple of friends to be praying that I don’t pass out in public…again.  I’ve  lost far too many cool points that way already.  Second, the artist I booked was a girl covered in tattoos.  If you’re a dude, you’re not allowed to cry/bitch/pass out while getting a tattoo from a girl that has more tattoos than you.  You just can’t.  It’s in the manual.

Third, I brought my wife.  I did this for  a couple reasons.  One, she’s pretty to look at and, two, she was under strict orders to keep talking to me.  I didn’t care about what; just keep talking.   I really have no recollection of what we talked about for the four hours we were there.  I think a John Wilkes Booth conspiracy theory from the History Channel and the contents of our refrigerator were covered, but I can’t be sure.

Fourth, I brought a squeeze toy to occupy my free hand.  Why?  Because biting down on a stick in public would just be weird.  Plus, I’ve seen enough movies and TV shows where a woman in labor crushes her husband’s hand to make herself feel better that I figured it had to be worth a shot.  And since I wished to continue being married, I used a foam stress reliever instead of my wife’s hand.  She was appreciative.  Who says chivalry is dead?

Finally, I played mind games.  I pretended I was a captured American spy being tortured by Communists to give up the nuclear launch codes.  Sounds stupid?  Overlooks the fact that the Cold War is over?  Yes and yes.  But  it worked, and you’re all safe thanks to my will of steel.  You’re welcome.  U-S-A!! U-S-A!! U-S-A!!

Oh, and if any of your friends ever get a tattoo and tell you that it didn’t hurt, they’re lying liars who tell lies, and if what I learned in elementary school holds true, their pants should be on fire.  That being said, I’m already thinking about another one.  Just don’t tell my dad.  He just got over this one.

(This tattoo was done by Lirette at MidCity Voodoux Tattoos.)

8 Comments leave one →
  1. Jessyca permalink
    May 3, 2011 3:41 pm

    Wow! This is deep…metaphorically and literally. Really! I mean that. I truly enjoyed reading this (and I don’t enjoy reading much). I have a hard time relating to the prayer aspect sometimes (still trying to figure it out) but, you had me at pencil (or non-permanent ink). I never write in ink; fearing that my mistakes might be recorded permanently. But, I never thought twice about getting several permanent, meaningful tattoos. Yes, they do hurt, and good for you to have the determination to be macho in front of the women with all the tats. Keep up the blog. I look forward to reading where your feet take you.

  2. Ash permalink
    May 3, 2011 6:56 pm

    Is that really how you spell elephantiasis? Man, you learn something new everday.

    • Aaron permalink*
      May 9, 2011 11:00 am

      I’m nothing if not educational…

  3. fuel52 permalink
    May 3, 2011 9:03 pm

    Bra, welcome to the blogosphere! Did I just say that? Ignore that… Dood, props to your first post! You’ve outdone yourself on the tatt, if i actually had the guts to get a tattoo, I’d put as much thought into it as you’ve done. I dig it. And since I know you’re a ‘Lost’ fan, I’m sure there’s a lot more secrets in that tatt than you’ve let out. I’ll find it!!

    Thanks for the post bro!

  4. Jon permalink
    May 4, 2011 9:13 am

    Very cool. Thanks for opening up and letting us in…I don’t know who’s crazier, you for opening the door, or us for actually stepping inside…HA! Anyway, I thoroughly enjoyed. Keep it up. You are really going to enjoy ECHO. Can’t wait.

  5. May 5, 2011 11:47 am

    Good stuff, brother man. Really enjoyed it. And welcome to the blogosphere. Quite the man of many words.

  6. Sally permalink
    June 4, 2011 6:37 am

    I agree with Jon – “thanks for opening up and letting us in”. You’ve let us see more of who Angie fell in love with. I really enjoyed reading this – faith, doubt, humor, fact… Great job – I look forward to reading more.

  7. June 11, 2011 7:06 am

    Very cool! I just marked turning 50 with a testimony tatt.

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