Owning My (Ink) Story

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Last week, I added two more tattoos.  I had been thinking about both for awhile and as a birthday present to myself, scheduled an appointment to do them at the same time.

The first is on my thigh.  I did a lot of planning and measuring in advance of exactly where I wanted it to appear (or not appear) with different lengths of skirts and shorts.  The tattoo is the words “RISE UP” written vertically in an Old English font.  It is from the musical Hamilton, a favorite of mine for its brilliance.  Alexander Hamilton sings “When you’re living on your knees, you rise up.  Rise UP.”  

The first book I read after Nelle died was Brené Brown’s Rising Strong and it has stuck with me.  I made the purchase on my Kindle while still in the hospital, but didn’t start it until we got home.  The hospital, while in Labor & Delivery, was not the place where I could be mentally focused on reading but I knew that I was going to need something to pull me along.  Rising Strong was it.  Add to that Hamilton’s insistence that he could “rise up” from nothing and make something of his life, it became something that I wanted to carry with me.  The thigh location means that I see it frequently, but have a lot of control over when others will see it.  I especially look forward to seeing it in the mirror when I practice yoga.

The second is a small tattoo on the outside of my right wrist, a scripted word “always” accompanied by a lightning bolt.  It is for the word spoken by Snape toward the end of the last Harry Potter book, when Dumbledore says “After all this time?” and he replies the single word “Always.”  Always love.  After all this time.  The lightning bolt is a dual meaning, first for Harry Potter’s lightning shaped scar on his forehead.  The second is that the first post I wrote after Iris died was entitled “Lightning.”  I felt like lightning had struck twice with losing two babies inside of six months.  Seeing the lightning bolt on my wrist is a reminder that we always carry our scars.

The day after having the tattoos done, I made mention of it to a new employee that I am onboarding.  He is younger than me, energetic, and has a lot of traits that remind me of myself.  As I casually mentioned that I had obtained my  4th and 5th tattoo, he told me that he has three of his own.  I asked him about the meaning, and he talked about one in particular that is a tribute to his grandfather who was a merchant marine and after whom he is named.

He then asked me the meaning behind mine.  I told him I had the birth dates of my children tattooed on my back.  The words “Be Still” on my arm.  And the tree of life on my foot with the birds going up my calf for my family.  But in this discussion, I never mentioned that I have five children, not three.  I only said “birthdates” – not “the five birthdates of my five children.”  And “birds for my family” – not “seven birds for the seven members of my family.”

Why?  I could only come to the conclusion that I did not want to make him uncomfortable with saying “I have two other children that died.”  I could almost hear the uneasy response that I would have received “Oh, I’m so sorry to hear that.”  I still held back, putting the other person’s comfort over my own.  I need to remind myself that it may make someone uncomfortable for five minutes, but it is something I have to live with every day.  They can handle five minutes of sitting with the uncomfortable.

And because this is someone I will work with closely for a long time, I was even more upset with myself later for not taking that moment to share.  It is part of who I am.  I just finished Brené Brown’s latest book Dare to Lead, about applying her research on shame and vulnerability to the workplace.  She talks about how she is in a place now where she doesn’t shy away from her own story in the workplace – it is part of who she is.  She writes “When we have the courage to walk into our story and own it, we get to write the ending.”

I let that moment own me.  I was afraid of being vulnerable.  But the truth is – if I am vulnerable with the people I work with, then they will feel comfortable being vulnerable with me.  And we all have those moments when we need it.  Because life happens and more than likely, everyone will have a moment when they need to say “You know what?  I’m going through some shit right now.  I need to step back, or I need help.”  I’d like to be the person that says “I get it.  You don’t have to explain.  I’m here with you.”