Years ago, when I was younger and learning that not everyone is like me, my college boyfriend and I went to a lake gathering with a friend of his from high school. The guy’s sister had a small, delicate butterfly tattoo on her ankle.
In an aside to me, the boyfriend wondered if tattoos aren’t a bit questionable. I can’t remember the words he said, but it was clear that he seemed surprised to see a nice girl with whom he’d grown up sporting one.
Sure, both of us had grown up in somewhat modest middle class homes, mine even less so. Neither of us had much exposure, if any, to tattoos. We probably assumed that tattoos were for drunken sailors, or cartoon characters like Popeye, who ate spinach out of a can and smoked a pipe.
With a posture of awe, I admired the tattoo. What made her get one? Was it a rebellious act? What did the butterfly mean?
Seemed possible since she was a southern, white, Catholic girl. Back then, the closest thing most women “monogrammed” was placed on their pillows and towels. What prompted this rebellion? It seemed impolite to ask her why she'd gotten a tattoo, which I now find ridiculous since it was in a visible place.
Perhaps I was looking at it wrong. Maybe it was about freedom, and, if so, from what? The loosening constraints of a culture that strictly insisted on prescribed boundaries for women. Growing up in the South, there was a history of how women dress, to more serious matters, such as limited education opportunities and career choices. Even if women worked outside the home, the responsibility of the household and child-rearing often continued to be mom’s purvey. Had this young woman’s college experience or leaving home allowed some cocoon to be split open, so that some colorful and new wings could spread out and stretch themselves before giving way to flight?
Or, maybe this woman simply liked butterflies.
Ever since seeing that first tattoo on a young woman many years ago, I’ve wanted one. Yet I couldn’t commit to a particular theme. I’d already been married before, and was thankful I hadn’t hastily put a name or inside reference to a former spouse. I had no hobby or interest that I cared to put in art, not permanently.
Through the years, my ideas about people and the world have changed, and so have societal norms. We know that tattoos are some of the first art ever created; it’s not a new thing. Tattoos are also everywhere on everyone, sleeves and faces. For me, the difference was that while I still live in the South, I’m middle-aged, and a pastor, and mother of four young boys. Was it too late?
Last year, just after my birthday, we were in Florida for a beach vacation. I began to look online at tattoo art. My love of pop culture narrowed down my search and finally dove-tailed with my spiritual journey.
I had three considerations: Mary Poppins, Star Wars, or Harry Potter references. Each conjures special memories of not only the movies, but times with my mother, an avid lover of film, and, these days, recalling time spent with my children when we read books, pretend we are conquering evil, playing a game, and watching movies together.
So I got an appointment near a tattoo parlor on the beach. The artist I ended up with was an creative guy, a college graduate and had been in grad school for animation. He was kind and even shared some of his spiritual journey with me as he worked.
I explained that I wanted to capture one of the final scenes in the Harry Potter series’ The Deathly Hallows. I wanted a tattoo on my inner left arm where there is a long scar from a terrible car wreck I had in 1995. I wanted a golden snitch, but not just anyone. I wanted the one that said, “I open at the close." That phrase is the almost inscrutable reference Dumbledore left Harry, a clue that Harry possessed the resurrection stone in the snitch before facing the evil Voldemort.
In that scene, Harry is surrounded by what Christians call, “a great cloud of witnesses,” those who have already entered the world to come: his parents, his godfather, and one of his professors. Harry is frightened. He asks about death. “What is it like? Does it hurt?” Finally, he asks those who love him, “Will you stay with me?” That is not unlike Jesus’ words to his friends as he faced death.
Harry’s mother gives the answer. “Always.”
My scar is sandwiched between a scar I got in a horrific car wreck where I severed an artery. When people ask about my tattoo, I tell them it is a nod to my children, and it is mixed with my love of story, scripture, an allusion to a children's book series about good and evil, and about the resurrection and the life to come.
I *heart* my tattoo.