“Will you tell me about those?” I asked the dread-head Rennie sitting across the community table, gesturing toward his arms. My eyes were fixed on his forearms but curiosity lured my gaze to the biceps hiding beneath the fabric of his t shirt. [Oh, by the way, a Rennie is someone who travels from place to place with the Renaissance Fair. A wonderfully free-spirited soul.]
Within seconds the vagabond Rennie pulled back his cotton Hanes sleeve to show his permanent sleeve – a kaleidoscope story of colorful ink. At once a new friendship commenced.
We sat around the table, completely at ease with our cheap beer and palpable comradery that only a serious case of wanderlust can create. My Rennie friend started with his right forearm and pointing to the ink just above his wrist, he shared, “this one is for our first miscarriage. We’ve lost 4 babies..”
17 minutes into a new friendship and already we’re sharing stories that are real – stories that are true, and beautiful and even painful. Stories that speak to the heart of the human experience. Isn’t it unfortunate that we so rarely live into and out of this authenticity? We’re so conditioned by our capitalistic culture that we are defined by our job, it becomes who we re. If we make a certain amount of money, we are successful. If we effortlessly juggle a nauseatingly packed calendar, we are important. If we promenade around the Facebook ballroom with our adorable children and gluten-free, sugar-free, paleo diets for the world to see, we are domestic royalty. I’ve grown ill with this masquerade ball of identity, and yet, I’m totally guilty of participating. But there, sitting around the community table with Rennie, we got to the real stuff, and there I began to understand the abysmal significance of tattoos.
I have 2 tattoos myself and I’m madly in love with them. After completing seminary I gifted myself with the new ink I’ve been dreaming of for 10 years. I found a killer artist and she perfected my vision. You see, my tattoos aren’t just the more rebellious version of needlepoint art, rather they are a part of me. They remind me of who I am, where I came from, and where I’m going.
At the heart of every human being exists the unquenchable longing to be known, to be loved, to matter. Our attempts to satiate the hunger of this universal desire are as bountiful as the stars above. We write books, buy expensive cars, hopscotch through romantic relationships, starve our bodies, gluttonously fill our bodies, pump our lips with collagen and stuff our breasts with with silicone; we crack side-splitting witty jokes, woo others with impeccable charm, fill our closets with Pintrest trends, and climb to the tippy top of the corporate ladder, all the while snapping selfies on Insta for all the world to see. At the end of the day, we just want to know that we matter. That our lives matter. That our stories matter. And I think this is the beauty of tattoos.
Tattoos speak into the this universal human longing. They simultaneously invite and proclaim. As invitation they say to others, “Come, listen to a story. Get to know me.” As proclamation they announce, “This is my story and I believe it matters.”
17 minutes is all it took for Rennie and I to tap into pulse of life, to find connection in the thing that makes us human – story. We all have a story to tell. And it’s worth telling because through each individual story gleams a shared existential thread that transcends race, age, sex, and culture, binding us all together within the larger, cosmic narrative of the created order.