To Tattoo or Not To Tattoo?
I have thought about getting a tattoo for a really long time. Going all the way back to 1996 actually.
Backstory: I studied abroad in France during my sophomore year of college with 29 other students. The ladies in our group considered all getting the same tattoo to commemorate our time there. It was a really good design: a blue fleur de lis with a green shamrock on either side (Notre Dame students in France).
At the time I was hung up on two obstacles. First, I couldn’t decide where I would want it on my body (for the rest of my life). Second, I was a little unsure about how much to trust a foreign tattoo parlor (no offense intended to the French).
My parents and Joshua (we were together even then) were a bit more wary. At one point I believe my mother, not normally what you would call a “bible thumper,” pointed me to a passage in Leviticus (19:28) that outright says, “You shall not…tattoo any marks upon you.”
Good ‘ole Leviticus laying down the law. I know she intended it not as the last word or definitive statement on the matter, but rather as a conversation starter. It was an attempt to bring me out of my 19 year-oldness just enough to take the long view and frame this choice in the context of my identity rather than a fun or frivolous act.
At that time, when all was said and done, the permanency of it was just too much and I decided to get a belly button ring instead – when I returned home.
Fast forward a decade and a half.
Last summer Joshua and I were hanging out with our priest friends, one of whom has a tattoo and was thinking of adding to it. This turned into a game of “If you got a tattoo: what would it be and where would you put it?” Before folks got to answering, we all more or less agreed that, at this point in our lives, whatever one of us got as a tattoo would have to be something intimately tied to our identity.
Folks began to have ready answers at that point and, not surprisingly, started to talk about going out right then to get tattoos. None did. But later that night, Joshua and I decided that if either of us wanted to get a tattoo we would agree to a waiting period of one year. The one year clock could start only after the interested party decided exactly what image they wanted and exactly where they would get it.
The whole experience makes me reflect on my long journey contemplating “to tattoo or not to tattoo.” What I realize is that to some extent, the Bible verse that my mother threw out all those years ago has actually shaped my thinking to some degree over time. Which begs the question: To what degree do we allow Scripture, the Catechism or the wisdom of our Tradition to be a part of our decision making dialogue? And to what degree do we allow for some space and time to let it all settle in?
In our marriage, we really use Scripture and the Catechism as invaluable sources of wisdom. Not a place to get answers isolated in a vacuum. But definitely a resource to inform the nature of the questions we should be asking ourselves. They contain the collected wisdom of millennia of people far smarter and more faithful than I, and more than once we have turned to them for a little insight.
For some of our most important decisions, I have noticed that we fall into a rhythm. We have really intense discussion (not that the conversation itself is intense, but the all-pervasiveness of a topic generally can be) followed by a period of just letting it all settle. Then we check in with one another about where each of us is at and go from there.
So, tattoos: a few months ago, Joshua got home from a trip to Alaska and told me to start the clock. He knows what he wants and where he wants it to be. All these years later, the shoe is on the other foot.