The Meaning in the Ink
June 6, 2014

My mother is an incredible woman (This is not her arm). She’s a registered nurse, and was one of the first nursing instructors at Arkansas State University when the program was new. After she left nursing, she was a stay-at-home mother for many years, though active in the community. When the nest was empty, she enjoyed a second career as a real estate agent. She is smart and accomplished.

Mom despises tattoos, and she isn’t shy about sharing her opinion. Which is a bit inconvenient, as she has two daughters, a son-in-law, one granddaughter, and one future grandson-in-law who are People of the Ink.

Sometimes we get ideas stuck in our heads and can’t grasp that things change; or maybe we just can’t accept the changes. Maybe the perceptions are too ingrained. Or perhaps it’s just a personal preference. Of the (extremely) opinionated variety.

My mom isn’t alone; there are a lot of people who think ink is icky. I used to be one, until my daughter, Sara Ann, changed my mind. What I’ve realized is that most tattoos are deeply meaningful. I can’t imagine a person permanently putting something on their body unless it’s profoundly important. So the art that a person endures hundreds of painful needle sticks to etch upon their body forever says a lot about what they value and who they are.

Several months ago, we ate at a popular suburban restaurant and our waitress was a 20-something young woman with a large tattoo on her arm. It was colorful and the art was quite lovely, so as we were settling the bill I asked her about it. She explained that she had lost her mother a couple of years ago, and the design incorporated elements that her mother loved, and a butterfly that reminded her of her mother’s life and their relationship. Hearing her explain its meaning moved me, and I was struck by how much it comforted her after the loss of her mother.

I don’t imagine many people in this neighborhood love that tattoo, and I would bet there are a fair number of conclusions drawn about the woman, but I wonder if perceptions would differ if the meaning were understood. I felt differently about Sara Ann getting a dove on the inside of her wrist when she explained to me the significance of the dove with regard to her faith, and asked me to join her in the experience.

People of my generation (55 and up), ask before you judge. Young people express themselves differently than we do, and what you perceive as “gross” (I’m talking to you, Mom) is precious to another. When you turn up your nose at the art, you make a value judgement on something that’s just as meaningful to another person as your most prized family heirloom is to you.


It’s OK not to like tattoos, but try to appreciate the art and the meaning. Most tattoo artists are highly skilled, and worthy of respect for their enviable talent.

A friend once shared with me a quote from a former (well inked) pastor of mine, who said,

“Jesus has a tat … see Revelation 19:16:
‘On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: King of Kings and Lord of Lords.'”

I’m thinking if it’s good enough for Jesus, it’s good enough for me.

My next bit of ink: A Cardinals bird on the bat, not just because I’m a fan, but in memory of my daddy, who taught me everything I know about the game, and with whom I shared many, many innings of baseball.

I dare you to judge that.

P.S. I’m not mad at my mom; there’s no family drama. No one is upset with anyone, and this isn’t anything I haven’t said or wouldn’t say to her face.


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