The first rule I ever remember learning was maybe the most important—always keep your promises. The reasoning behind that rule was basic. In the end, all a man has is his word. If we say we’re going to do something, we’d better do it. Simple as that.
I’ve done my best to fulfill my promises over the years. I’ve succeeded most times. Failed some, too. Others have had to be put on hold until the circumstances were right. One of those promises was one I made to myself, one that had been put on hold for seven years. I was determined to keep that promise. Last Saturday, I did just that.
I got a tattoo.
I realize that may sound a little ridiculous. Childish, even. I assure you that neither applies in this situation. My tattoo was serious business, the product of much thought and introspection. It wasn’t done on a whim, and it isn’t, as Jimmy Buffett so eloquently put it, “A permanent reminder of a temporary feeling.”
When I first sat down to write Snow Day, I did so with two thoughts in mind. One was that if it was good enough, it would get published one day. The other was that it could very well give a lot of people what I was so lacking at the time, and that was a sense of hope in their lives.
The odds of getting a book published were not lost to me. I knew what I was getting into and what would be involved. So I promised myself that if I managed to hang on and if God just so happened to smile upon me, I’d get a tattoo.
It’s easy to lose chapters in the story of your life, easy to let the ones already written slip away and into the wind while you’re writing the here and now. I didn’t want that. I wanted to make sure that didn’t happen.
And I didn’t want a run of the mill tattoo, either. I wanted something unique to me. Something that told my own story.
I wanted a Native American feel, since they’re in both my blood and my family tree. To the Native Americans, every person has their own totem, an animal that acts as a protector and guide through physical and spiritual worlds. Knowing your totem is an innate process, they say, and a sacred one. Though my own beliefs don’t really allow room for spirit guides, I’ve always been drawn to wolves. To the Native Americans, wolves were the pathfinders, the protectors of wisdom and tribe. Loyal and strong and independent. Always watching. At home in the mountains and the wild places.
If God would have made me as an animal, it would have been a wolf.
I wanted a reminder of those long years spent trying and failing, too. I didn’t ever want to forget the faith I found or even the doubts I had, as both served to make me a better man. Our hopes and dreams don’t nearly define us as much as the manner by which we journey toward them. I needed to make sure I could remember that. Which is the reason for the designs around the wolf. Each design represents a year I spent waiting to get published. The small ones are years that went by quickly, when hope was abundant and doubt was hiding. The long ones are the years when I almost gave up.
There are a lot of long ones.
One question has been asked the most—did it hurt? My answer has usually been given in typical Country Boy fashion—“It didn’t tickle.” The truth is that it hurt. The truth is also that I was looking forward to that hurt, because much of the last six years hasn’t tickled, either.
I got a lot of thinking done during the two and a half hours I spent with an electric needle punching me in the arm (the tip of which, appropriately enough, looked much like the nib of a fountain pen). I allowed myself to remember. Everything. The places I’ve been, the people I’ve known, and the blessings I’ve received.
To the artist doing the work, it was just another tattoo.
To me, it was my story.
This post is part of the blog carnival on Strength, hosted by Bridget Chumbley. To read more, please visit her site.