Lessons from a Tattoo

I got my first tattoo three years ago. I had always liked tattoos but knew that if I got a dolphin coming out of the waistband on my lower back, I’d probably regret it at some point. I knew I couldn’t get one unless I could be sure I’d never think it was ridiculous. I figured that my kids’ and wife’s initials with an infinity symbol would probably be safe. Hell, even if Ann divorces me, we have two kids together so I’ll keep her initials. I’ll just require her share of the retirement money in exchange for doing so. But I digress.

People often tell you that once you get one tattoo you’re going to want more…they’re like Lays Potato Chips apparently. And, well, they are in fact just like Lays, only less fattening.

After the ice (my skin) was broken, I immediately wanted another one, and I knew what it would be. It would come from a 10th century Japanese poem I found in a book I was reading. This poem wouldn’t leave me alone. It haunted me, in a good way, and I wanted to have it with me all the time. Here’s the poem:

Although the wind
blows terribly here,
the moonlight also leaks
between the roof planks
of this ruined house.
~Izumi Shikibu

It was so simple but so profound: it seemed to fully encapsulate my own experience of life…Life is windy, terribly windy. Life is a ruined house with a shitty roof to boot. But damned if that stupid roof doesn’t sometimes let in a little moonlight that’s make-you-weep beautiful. So often, any sort of book or greeting card or song that has a look-at-the-bright side message wants to oversell the good side. Like this:

Although the sea breeze can be a bit harsh every fourth year or so
the SUNLIGHT is so beautiful that you have to be an idiot to
focus on anything else. So quit complaining if the air conditioning blows a little
too cold for your liking.
~Tim Blue (ca. July 1,2016. 8:33 pm)

And shit like that makes my skin crawl because life is really really hard. At least it is for me. I’m a bundle of anxieties, obsessive thoughts, deep bouts of depression, uncontrolled fits of anger, and every once in awhile, gentle kindness with a fun sense of humor. Unfortunately, the light I can see is usually “just” moonlight. I am unceasingly aware of the crappy house I live in (the one called my body and brain).

But man can moonlight be beautiful. Way more beautiful than sunlight, IMHO (ask someone who texts a lot). And if we’re all honest with ourselves, the houses we live in are all pretty broken. I mean, we are all living in houses that are going to ultimately fail us when that little monster called Death comes calling. We’re on the Titanic, people. We know how the movie ends. But ironically, we all went to see the movie anyway. I, for one, wanted to see Kate Winslet’s boobs. But the other 2 hours and 59 minutes were pretty worth watching too. So why go see a movie when you know the ending and that most of the people will die? Because there’s something very, very beautiful about the doomed, moonlit lives they were living.

And the same goes for us. If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance that your life is more of the moonlit kind than the sunlit kind. Maybe you, like me, curse the ruined house you live in once or twice a minute. I’d love to wrap this up by saying “it’s all going to be fine!” But it won’t. The old bumper sticker put it well: Life’s a bitch, and then you die. And life is a bitch. And we will die.

But I hope you’ll look up and see some moonlight every once in awhile too. And I hope you’ll cut yourself some slack for how hard life can be. If you’re like me, you’re pretty tough on yourself. But you’re probably trying your best. And you probably deserve a lot more moonlit nights than you think you do.

So here’s to moonlight. And here’s to those of you who keep fighting despite rarely noticing much light of any kind. And here’s to remarkably painful tattoos that serve as a permanent reminder to notice the moonlight while you’re looking up, cursing your drafty roof.
 
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One thought on “Lessons from a Tattoo

  1. Well I had a semi-poignant response to your post, but the ether claimed it. Thank you for producing that gem of a poem. Not only would I have never come across it, but I probably would not have taken the extra ten minutes to absorb its meaning. Perhaps the moonlight that we should stop and enjoy is light piercing through a veil leading to greater things?

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