spirit flows thru -- Alison Rittger's spiritual reflections on finding the holy in the daily

Is That a Tattoo?


Alison's arm candy
As she waved me through the security-check gate at SFO, the lady agent pulled up her pant leg to show me the scaled dragon tattoo curling up her calf.  And the other morning a youthful barrista at the West Portal Starbucks took time to explain why he wasn’t sure about getting tattoos though many of his friends had them.  He wondered if it hurt. Of course, it hurts. That’s hardly the point. It’s pain that can be put up with, especially if, like me, you orchestrate your pain to the strains of the ‘Buena Vista Social Club.’

Something about seeing the tattoo of an intricate green vine with pink flowers that looks like a fuchsia and runs from my elbow to my wrist on my right arm of a “woman-of-age” encourages that kind of show and tell. But not everybody, seeing the decorative plant, responds with admiration. Some express indifference, disdain and/or disbelief. Yes, responses have been mixed, but basically they divide between “Wow, what inspired you? And “Good grief, what possessed you?”

My first “good grief” greeted me immediately following my first two and a half hour session, when I came into the lobby of my condo on Gough street with my arm wrapped in plastic. The lady who lives on the floor above me expressed shock and wondered where I planned to park my motorcycle. “I’m the same woman you saw this morning,” I said to her, “and I still have one parking place like every one else in the building.”

My favorite “Good grief” occurred at the opera one evening when the glittery lady sharing the armrest to my right looked at my vine and said, dismissively, that it’s all very well for now, the fad and all but since it is permanent what will you do when you get older. I smiled and pulled up the sleeve on my unadorned left arm.

I’m not sure why I waited 67 years to get ink, perhaps it was the proximity of the tattoo parlor to my home. At some level I reasoned that carting me home if I succumbed to pain or paint fumes wouldn’t be difficult.

But the desire to mindfully decorate and commemorate the right side of my body goes back to being the three-year old whose arm went into the old-style wringer of a washing machine, got stuck and was dreadfully injured, requiring more than a month of hospitalization in traction and skin grafts from my right leg to the arm in the hope they would make the resulting scar less visible.

The tattoo was to be my conscious tribute to childhood pain and perceived ugliness, to the helplessness I felt in the hospital, the awful pain, fear and loneliness. Doctors used to blurt things out in front of children, such as she will never have the full use of the arm. The scars on her leg will never fade, but no one will notice them.

Additionally, I wanted a tribute to plants because as a docent-in-training at the San Francisco Botanical Garden and Arboretum, I learned that plants just do what they do to continue the species, and I admired that unemotional purposiveness. No mood swings in the arboretum as plants coexist without jealousy or vanity. Admirable, don’t you think?

And finally, I chose to make a statement about aging, to say that regardless of what we endured early, life continues full of surprises, and much joy lies in being a late bloomer    

11/1/2011 01:19:20 am

Showing others an imprint of who you are beneath the skin is so brave.

11/22/2011 11:36:28 am

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