Permanence

Nothing says next stage of life quite like receiving a text/picture of/from your youngest child in her Seattle tattoo parlor of choice. It is a real attention-grabber. The gentleman/artist in the photograph with her did appear to be wearing surgical gloves, which felt like a win all things considered.

She may or may not be my child; I am without tattoo, at least none that I have discovered, and I have been with me at almost all times. My tattoo-less status is not a moral stand, however; instead, my particular phobias include in no particular order: fear of physical pain, fear of permanent markers, and fear of misspelled words. If the tattoo artist was an actual boa constrictor, it would be my worst nightmare.

My dad had a large, prominent tattoo of a battleship on his bicep, which made perfect sense for a WWII sailor, but I am embarrassed to say that it took me a couple of decades to realize that “Ruby” was probably not the name of the battleship. The lack of texting technology during the Second World War worked in favor of the emotional state of my grandmother.

But our daughter is so cool. She carefully chose her tattoo, a Swahili phrase, and described it this way:

Nakupenda was the first Swahili phrase I learned on my first trip to Kenya back in 2012. It means “I love you” and is a constant reminder of my love for Kenya, for the students at MITS, for travel, for education, and for doing all I can to help bring more love to the world. This phrase has meant so much to me for the past 4 years and now, in the handwriting of my Kenyan brother, Paul, it will always be a part of me.

I love it. And her. But I confess that my first thought upon hearing that she was actually going through with it was, “Are you sure that’s a good idea?” Which, actually, was not a conscious thought, but a deeply-repressed and possibly unspoken lesson from childhood that said, “No, that is not a good idea.” Why not? The voices in my head said something about permanence. This youngest child of ours now has a message permanently imprinted on her body (laser removal technology notwithstanding).

Here’s the funny thing: She chose it because of its permanence. That’s the point.

“…it will always be a part of me.”

Yes, it will, sweetheart, and that makes me smile. You know, come to think of it, ink or no ink, all of us are tatted up by our life experiences and the deep values that shape who we are and what we hope to become.

Permanence has a negative side, but it has a glorious side, too.

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