“Damn, girl, you don’t do anything by halves, do you?” writes a friend in response to an email with pictures and explanation of my recent adventures. He wasn’t the only one. I also received variations of, “When Alegra gets her first tattoo, she doesn’t start with a cute little butterfly, oh no…”
I love this version of me but the truth is, I’m not nearly as crazy or daring as my friends give me credit for. Mostly, I’m trying to climb out of my anxiety-riddled brain back into the Eden of my spirit. Most days, this involves giving thanks for my heart that beats, my body that processes food, the house I live in, the family that supplies me with enough surround-sound chaos and drama that I rarely have need to seek entertainment outside my home. Just give me a few hours of quiet in my office and I’ll entertain myself, thank you very much.
Despite reputation and appearances, I don’t like taking big, spontaneous life-changing action. This is what happens, I’ll be weaving and bumbling and willing my way along the path between the very logical part of my brain and the part of my brain that speaks the language of dreams and bottomless oceans and I’ll be captured by a pocket of calm. It swoops down and grabs me by the back of the neck, gives me a little shake as I dangle, and says, “Are you ready to listen?”
I’m never *entirely* ready to listen, so it goes ahead and tells me what is going to happen anyway. About a year and half ago it was this:
Alegra, you’re going to get a tattoo. It is going to be a shark. For years (one of the first blog posts on this site is titled ‘A shark-filled peace’), you’ve been letting your own idea of sharks chase you out of the surf. They’ve bullied you in your dreams. They have been a source of strength you’ve been rejecting again and again. They are protectors not predators.
And so it was planted. I was going to get a tattoo. It was going to begin just beneath my belly button and wrap around my side to my scapula; a representation of my gut instincts and sense of purpose protecting the tender underside of my heart. Once I understood this, there was no going back, although I tried but friends and other forces made it impossible to not commit.
I knew that the shark needed to represent many things, so I brought it to my husband and asked him to design it for me. He went through multiple drafts and over the evolution we began to add in elements:
1) the head of the shark became the Maori bone carving, a ‘manaia’, that I’d found in Baja on a surf trip before I ended up in NZ. It was one of those ‘calm’ moments when life told me what it had in mind for me. It was one of the first moments in my adulthood that I recognized that direction of wonder and faith. The manaia is a spiritual guardian that makes sure the spirit remains on the planet until its time is done. It is a guardian of fortune and a connection between this world and the next.
2) I wanted something lushly feminine and creative. When I was a child living in Ithaca, N.Y. my imagination was impacted by two flowers, lilacs and tiger lilies; lilacs for their scent and tiger lilies for their wild beauty. There was something fierce and unapologetic in tiger lilies. In my child-mind, they mixed with my struggles to comprehend mortality, the reality of the broken world, and the awesome beauty that flourished despite everything.
3) Symbolically lilies represent faith, motherhood, passion, remembrance, transitioning, purity, renewal, hope…I could go on. So I wanted three lilies to represent my three living children. I also wanted a bud representing the child we lost at thirteen weeks.
Over the time of making the commitment to a date and payments, things began to change in me. I had my own plans in terms of what I wanted to change, but those, of course, didn’t happen. They weren’t important.
Let me say this: I went into my four hour appointment innocent as to what I would experience and in total faith of what the artist would do with what I’d given her. I wasn’t wrong. I’m glad I had no
idea what to expect in either area. I’ve found that the best of my life can’t be predicted.
Almost all of the important work is done on my ribs and scapula, some of the most sensitive areas. When the tail work cradling my heart began, the pain really began. My friend, Amber, let me squeeze the bejeezus out of her hand. She said, “Honey, remember the metaphor: you’re protecting the back of your heart. Of course this is going to be the most painful part.”
The completion of the petals that represent my children were just as painful. They were the most detailed of all of the work, and really, the most important.
On the other side of things I understand the power of choosing the level of pain that comes with a work of an art like this; it is a pain that you know won’t break you, it will empower you. It is pain that transforms into permanent beauty. I have been reflecting on how all pain in my life is like this: it doesn’t need to scar. It can be art if I choose it to be.
Also, I feel like I can no longer hide who I am. There it is on my skin in a way I could have never chosen for myself – it chose me:
You, it said.
You bold, fierce, beautiful creation.
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