When I first started considering getting a tattoo, I wasn’t particularly serious. I was worried about the permanence. I worried about making marks, about forever altering myself in any way.
Then infertility hit and I realized something: life was going to put marks on me, whether I willed it or no. Some marks were literal, as the bruises on my abdomen from injections. Others were invisible, known and seen only by me. And I wanted something external to express those invisible marks as well as turn them into something lovely. Something I had chosen with care.
“Life is real! Life is earnest! And the grave is not its goal…”
I remember hearing a college professor of mine speak these words as our group trudged through the barren January landscape of Concord, Massachusetts. I loved the quote as soon as I heard it, and looked up the poem later: Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s A Psalm of Life. The New England authors are favorites of mine and reading them often calls me back to a center.
If I ever get a tattoo, I thought, I want those words to be a part of it.
So I took the plunge to get those words along with a design of cherry blossoms permanently inked on my right shoulder a year ago. I had no idea what further dents, scratches, and scars life had in store for me.
Yet I am surprised how much the symbolism still works, that it has become more powerful for me over the past year.
Cherry blossoms represent the beauty and fragility of life. I can think of no better juxtaposition to remember my babies. The tiny, beautiful spaces where for a moment the blossoms opened on the trees, and I was pregnant. The breeze blowing, season changing, and suddenly, in a rush of delicate petals, they were gone.
My tattoo artist had to convince me to put the smoky purple and sky blue behind the flowers, because he told me that it would give dimension to the design. I am glad, because those colors have come to represent that some days there are storms, but others, the clearest blue horizons.
Then there is my beloved Longfellow quote.
Longfellow lost his first wife to a miscarriage and mourned her deeply. A Psalm of Life was written several years after her death. Whenever my professor would say these words, it was often as a reminder that life is real, life is earnest. That the zest for living and the pain of doing so go hand in hand.
My tattoo is a reminder to me to live. Even when it hurts.