As the steam from the natural hot springs rose around us filling the small rustic shed like exhaust billowing out of an old beat-up truck on a cold winter morning, I listened with interest as my new found friend shared her regrets over the tattoos from her youth that still enveloped both of her arms from wrist to shoulder. I admired them. They were hints as to the story of her past. I understood why she felt the remorse that she did about them. Her train of thought made sense to me but as a bystander I saw them differently. I saw her differently. She has a story. We all do. The person she was when she became tattooed is not the same person that she is today for certain. Yet…the journey she took to get here, where she is now, included the hours spent in the tattoo chair enduring the discomfort of needles and I highly doubt she would be nearly the amazing human she is today had she skipped over some of those things that she regrets today.
Character is built out of experiences. I don’t think we should go about our lives haphazardly making mistakes around every corner just to build character but we will make mistakes. We are human and in that inherently flawed. We can look at our mistakes with an air of regret but deep down if our intentions were good perhaps it is better to view those mistakes with an air of gratitude. Without these mistakes we would not have learned so many important lessons. Without these mistakes we would not have developed into the people we are today. A smoothly paved road does not build a warrior. I think that the heart of the regret for my friend was rooted in a fear that those around her would make assumptions as to her character and heart based on her appearance and she did not feel that her appearance accurately depicts the heart of who she is anymore. This sadly may happen but the opposite is also true. Her artwork may open the door for connection with another human who may be intrigued by it or feel a connection to her through a familiar form of art depicted on her. Some doors and hearts may be closed while others are opened and those may be the hearts she is destined to meet. It is an important reminder to never judge a book by its cover but deep down this girl is still the girl who got those tattoos so long ago. She is now more refined and dignified and mature in her perspective but that wild and impulsive nature got her here. All of the layers that make up this amazing human are pieced together from her regrets and the proudest moments of her life. It is honestly a beautiful thing.
Tattoos for me are not a statement. I did not get any of my tattoos to leave an impression on anyone else. Each and every one has a very special meaning for me personally and they are reminders of lessons I have learned and those I love. Every one of my tattoos is also built around a bird. I love birds. They are wild and free…and smart. One of my tattoos features an owl and while there are many symbolic elements in that piece the owl specifically is special to me. For a period of my life, I lived in a small 12’X 16’ cabin with no running water and often no electricity. The life there was incredibly stressful and it is a very long story to try to explain the ins and outs of it. There were many phases to my life in the cabin but one thing was very steady, the presence of a large owl. He would perch atop my cabin, stoic and still in the night and talk to me by the snap and flow of my campfires glow. He would hoot calming melodies to me from his perch in my shop once I had nestled into my covers, pulling my blankets up around my chin for the night. He was a comforter in a time of duress. He was a constant in a time of turmoil and he has shown up many places since. When I was laying on a cot in a small tent waiting for my turn to be dropped into the wilds of the Northwest Territories to see how long I could survive I again felt the stress and turmoil within me. I laid there for a short time before I heard him. He was nearby cooing softly into the night reassuring me that I would be ok. I could do it. He said, “You have done much harder things my friend, this you can also do.” I turned over in my down sleeping bag with a smile and closed my eyes to sleep at peace. He was right.
Obviously, I know this was not the same owl that frequented my cabin in Idaho but the theme of the owl showing up when I feel overwhelmed or like I am not enough has been incredibly reoccurring. It is a theme in my life that I have recognized and welcomed. I believe he is a gift. He was sent by God, nature, whatever force you want to call it that I know is out there much bigger than me. He came to me as an owl because that is what I would receive. Not everyone would receive a message or hope from an owl. Some people might only receive that from another human, others might accept it from the wind, a pet, a book etc. The list goes on and on. Birds and owls have always been very special to me and I have many stories of moments of their significance in my life but the point of this tale is that my tattoos tell a story. They are a culmination of experiences in my life that make me who I am. What other people think they mean or think about them doesn’t matter to me. I don’t care if people judge me by my looks. These tattoos and my life are not about them. It is my personal story, one that I alone can write and I will tell it in my own way and in my own time.