Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Forgiveness & Tattoos: Reflecting on the Past

I went to get a tattoo the other day and a friend of mine also expressed interest in getting one. She asked if she could come with me, but first asked me to make sure no one talked her into getting a tattoo while at the parlor. She knew what she wanted and where, but she wanted more time to think before jumping into such a permanent decision.

Although I agreed and helped fight off the peer pressure for her, I wondered what the big deal was. I understand tattoos are irreversible, more or less. There are removal processes, but I hear those are quite expensive and sometimes scar (though I have never actually researched tattoo removal). A tattoo might express who I am today, but not who I am 20 years from now. As I change, my tattoo will not change with me, unless it is on a part of my body that gets pretty flabby through the years.

Tattoos are permanent. They are decisions that will follow you for the rest of your life. What decisions are not permanent? This morning I put on a plaid button-up shirt, but quickly decided I wanted to wear my dark-blue t-shirt with the small bleach stain instead. I was able to easily change my decision of what to wear outside my apartment, but I cannot go back in time and prevent myself from buttoning up that plaid shirt. I will live the rest of my life as the man who put on that plaid shirt and then changed his mind.

Obviously my shirt and my tattoo are decisions of different weight, but they are still decisions I made and can never change, never annul. I can change my shirt, but I cannot exactly change my tattoo. Sure, I might be able to cover up or adapt the tattoo, but it will be there until the skin is gone or I opt for that expensive surgery. Even after removal, the past is not changed, although the lens with which I view it would be. Or, at least, the lens with which others view my past might be changed, since they would never see the tattoos.

I am not trying to lighten the heaviness of making a decision about a tattoo. After all, I did fend off peer pressure, helping my friend take the time she needs before getting a tattoo. Contrarily, I want to burden the lightness of so many other decisions. Nine times out of ten, I suspect the color of my t-shirt will not make a huge impact on my life. However, the decision to buy a t-shirt might. Will I buy it from the thrift store, Wal-mart, the Gap outlet, a company online that makes “organic” t-shirts out of bamboo, or a company I know nothing about, a company that might be using sweatshops? Or, perhaps I will decide I do not need any more t-shirts and instead of buying new shirts, I will give some away. I might sew any holes in my older shirts and give away my “nicer” shirts, choosing to look grungy to buck against the consumerist, capitalist system of always buying new to look fashionable.

So many “everyday” decisions are so simple and so easy to make, but they should not be. A lot of these decisions will not follow me around, but others will. Buying a new shirt can be tantamount to forcing a tattoo on another human being. Actually, buying a new shirt can be worse than picking the location and design of a tattoo on another human being. Pumping money into an unethical business can mean the suffering and death of another human being, often times a child. Driving alone instead of carpooling, walking, or not going anywhere could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back for a certain plant, animal, sickly human being, or the US American or Middle Eastern person caught in the midst of a senseless war for oil.

I would rather get a tattoo on a whim, because I can always get the expensive surgery or put the tattoo on an inconspicuous part of my body. Those other decisions I make daily, those decisions that cause suffering and death, they can be forgiven by God and even sometimes by humans, but not even God can erase the past. Sometimes forgiveness does not seem like enough. It does not stop suffering. I can be redeemed, but my sins cannot.

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