New Year, New Tattoo!

I got a tattoo! Okay, that's not actually that exciting because I already had two tattoos, but this one is special because 1) I've been wanting to get it for a long time 2) it's the first one that I can actually see without a mirror or craning my neck (the other two are on my back) and 3) it's the first one that is visible most of the time.

Here it is.


Ain't it pretty? I think so.

For added clarity, here's what it says:

Appreciative love gazes and holds its breath and is silent...

Beautiful, no? I think so. Unfortunately, I can't take credit for it.

The quote comes from The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis (that's my copy in the background). Lewis, as I'm sure you know, is most famous for The Chronicles of Narnia series, but he was also a prolific writer of non-fiction, specifically theological books that tackled big questions about God, faith, and Christianity. I am not a religious person, but I was a semi-religious person in a previous life (read: the part of my life during which I lived in the South). And during that period, I read quite a few of Lewis's books. The Four Loves was the first and my favorite.

The book is about, well, love. Lewis posits that there are (surprise!) four types of love: Affection, Friendship, Eros, and Charity. Affection is the type of love you feel for your dog or your child or your parents (I know it's weird that these are the same, but he got these ideas from the Greeks, so blame them). Friendship is what it sounds like: the particular love you feel for someone with whom you share a special and entirely non-biological (in fact entirely unnecessary) bond. Lewis's description of friendship is probably my second favorite passage from the book:

Friendship arises out of mere Companionship when two or more of the companions discover that they have in common some insight or interest or even taste which the others do not share and which, till that moment, each believed to be his own unique treasure (or burden). The typical expression of opening Friendship would be something like, “What? You too? I thought I was the only one.”

Is that not perfect? Moving on...

The third type of love is Eros, or romantic love. The last, Charity, is the purest form of love and it is what God feels for us--an entirely unselfish, benevolent love for His children.

The quote that I ink-scribed on my forearm comes from an earlier passage in the book where Lewis is describing three additional forms love can take: Need-love, Gift-love, and Appreciative love. He describes them as such:

Need-love says of a woman “I cannot life without her”; Gift-love longs to give her happiness, comfort, protection, if possible, wealth; Appreciative love gazes and holds its breath and is silent, rejoices that such a wonder should exist even if not for him, will not be wholly dejected by losing her, would rather have it so than never to have seen her at all.

Girly confession time: I encountered this quote for the first time before I actually read the book. My first boyfriend, whom I dated for I think two months my senior year of high school, was a pretty religious guy (at the time, he wanted to become a pastor; that's not what he became) and loved C.S. Lewis. Being 17 and in love, I was interested in absolutely everything he liked. That didn't mean I liked everything he liked; I was just interested in it.

One night, as we were talking on AOL Instant Messenger (because in 2002 teenagers only communicated via AOL Instant Messenger), he told me he was reading The Four Loves and came across a passage that reminded him of me. "Do tell!" I said. And then he sent me that quote.

Ladies, I'm sure you can all agree: that is one smooth move. If a guy said this to me now, I'd be slayed, but when I was 17 and dating my first boyfriend, I was done for. I memorized the quote immediately and have not forgotten it since.

Over time, the significance of the quote changed, of course. That boyfriend broke up with me a few weeks later, I cried a lot, but eventually moved on, and I haven't laid eyes on him since we graduated. Yet I still love the essence of this quote, this idea that one can love something just for itself, just for the sheer pleasure of loving it. And it's not only something we feel toward our lovers; it's the feeling we get when we feel the first summer breeze or smell a rose or see a painting or hear our favorite song. It's the love that tells us that there is beauty in the world. It's the love that makes us human. It is the love that gives life meaning. 

I have wanted to get this tattoo for several (something like 6) years. Originally, I thought I'd get the entire last line tattooed on my ribs, which is precisely why I never got it--because that would have hurt like hell. When I got my first tattoo, I saw another girl in the parlor getting a huge (and, frankly, hideous) tattoo on one side of her abdomen. When I saw her, the tattoo was near completion, and she was bright red, in tears, writhing in pain on the chair while doing everything she could to not move. It was an image that stuck in my psyche.

But a few weeks ago I realized that a shorter version of the quote in a less sensitive place would probably be more prudent (also cheaper). Plus, I've always admired elegant forearm tattoos on women. I just think they're classy (especially quotes). I also decided that if I wanted this tattoo, I should just fucking get it. Do the thing I said I was going to do. Be the type of person that follows through. It was not just about the words or the design; it was about the act of getting it, too.

I got it on December 30, 2015--not an insignificant date. I spent the next evening at a New Year's Eve party explaining it to a bunch of people I'd never met while they complimented me on it (maybe they were being nice, but still). Perhaps it wasn't the craziest or most rebellious or most inspiring thing I could do to kick off 2016, but it was something. And every time I look at it, I'm proud.

Up until I was in college, I never wanted tattoos. "They don't bother me on other people," I said, as if other people gave a shit what I thought. "But I just don't want one myself."

Then, in college, I met David, who quickly became and remains one of my closest friends. David had a tattoo on his upper arm. He always kept it covered in public (a T-shirt would do the trick), so in order to see it, he had to show it to you. It was a picture of a Japanese warrior and the symbol from the martial arts school he attended for several years back home in Pennsylvania. (David, if you're reading this, forgive me for forgetting what type of warrior and martial arts and what the phrase actually said. Leave a comment and I'll amend this post.) This was not a tattoo I would ever get, but after listening to David explain its significance to me and several others, I became fascinated. Tattoos were one of the ultimate forms of expression. What says more about you than the images you choose to put on your body permanently? What a great way to remind yourself of who you are, where you've been, and where you want to go.

Okay, I realize many people get tattoos that do not carry such meaning, but I was thinking of the potential. Sophomore year I decided that I wanted a tattoo. But, being the risk-averse, conscientious person that I am, I told myself I had to wait a year. I also didn't know what I wanted. 

A few months later, I was reading Dante's Paradiso for a class I was taking and found what I wanted. It was a quote in Canto 1 in which Dante is explaining to his reader that what he is about to describe--his journey through Heaven--is indescribable, but he hopes that by giving his humble account he will inspire some greater poet later on to do a better job. Poca favilla gran fiamma seconda, he says. "Great fire follows a small spark."

That was March 2005. In the Fall of 2005, I would decide to write a thesis on The Divine Comedy. In the Spring of 2006, I would study abroad in Florence, the city where Dante was born, and visit his tomb (where I actually cried a little) in Ravenna. In August of 2006, I got that tattoo in a circle surrounding a small flame on my lower right hip. If I'm honest, it's not a great tattoo in terms of execution (the lettering, especially at the bottom is terrible) but I still love it because it still has meaning. (Also, frankly, I don't have to look at it all that often). 

They say once you get your first tattoo, you become addicted. I wouldn't go so far as to call myself an addict, but I will say that, once you get one, the stakes for getting another go WAY down. I mean, you already have some permanent ink on your body. What's a little more? In September of 2008, I got my second tattoo, a fleur de lis on my upper right shoulder. I got it because it's the symbol of Florence (there, it is called il giglio) and it was pretty :) Again, see, low stakes. 

I'm probably done with tattoos for a while, but I wouldn't rule another one out somewhere down the line. Tell me, do you have any? Or have you ever thought about getting one? Is there something you'd get if you weren't so afraid of needles or averse to the idea of marring your perfect body? Is there something you've been talking about doing for a long time but have finally decided to follow through on this year? I'd love to hear about it.