What makes your body feel like yours? For me, the moon.
In September I designed and got my first tattoo.
Over the summer as I was developing a clear sense of what I wanted, I shared my idea with a friend.
She responded, “well that kind of takes the mystery out of it doesn’t it.” She was referring to my intent to choose a personal quote.
Undeterred by the sentiment, I moved forward with my idea, getting it done on my last day in a seven year advocacy role.
I was seeking a marker that described to myself what I was taking away, what felt like mine still.
I needed my own words in my own handwriting, somewhere I could see and touch easily.
The next day when I went to my weekly reiki appointment the practitioner commented, “I’ve never seen your wrist or arm this relaxed.”
That was seven months ago now, and since then I’ve thought hard about what calmness I was exuding, and what about having gotten a tattoo had triggered that in me. Triggered positively.
I had heard from other friends that I would soon discover the slippery slope of tattoo leading to tattoo and so on. Or as one friend said, “Your body as a canvas is a rush you’ll like and want more of.”
It came to me recently that I wasn’t done, and the pull towards another image to display was forming and strengthening.
The image that I most consistently saw in my mind’s eye was of a moon, neither crescent nor whole, but moving towards full. Waning.
The moon is a pull for Cancers like me. The way tides are controlled by it. The way we perceive it’s wholeness as always fluid, never seeing deficits or static placement. The way it can be in the presence of the sun, no less radiant. Uncontrolled or responsible for the things the sun is, self demonstrative, subtle yet alluring.
Something you look for in the sky, and can’t look away from once you’ve spotted. Not anything you have to shield your eyes from.
The moon for me holds many of the qualities and assurances I aspire to, and it surrounds me with a feeling that something is happening in me, subtly and intensely. Waning.
I had this image in my mind that I talked through with a friend, settling on a simple yet nuanced picture the size of a quarter, black.
It’s been on my ankle now for three days, and I look for it with my fingers the way my eyes scan the sky for the moon.
And I consider the bridge we have set to build between self determination and body autonomy, how narrowly we use those values in our reaction to each other’s choices and needs.
I thought about what it is to feel your skin with your fingers and sense yourself, the sensation of having contemplated an image that expresses something of meaning. Maybe not timelessly, or even beautifully, or even permanently, but something that felt viscerally wanted at the time.
Something you had the ability to dream into being and grant yourself. Something that allows you to experience your body personally and independently. Something that signals a rush.
I stopped on these words as I flew home yesterday, squeezed in an exit row between two fellow passengers.
Contributor Pastor Michael McBride writes in “How We Fight White Supremacy” this poignant excerpt:
“And when I asked why they had never mentioned it to me, they said they didn’t believe that this part of their lives was something to bring into the church. That conversation was just as disjointed as my experience with the police, as I realized that my young people could trust me with their souls, but they couldn’t trust me with their bodies.”
My hands ran over each of my tattoos as I read those words, ringing as true. Making me aware of the physical realities that make trust harder, that keep bodies unsafe regardless of any safe spaces we create. Making the default to keep your physical boundaries private, so that it weighs less when they are violated. Making us imagine our holiest images as without body.
I tenderly seek to include my body in what is sacred and worth treasuring about me, and I look for ways to sense my own presence in my day to day physical experiences.
I look for images that show my body that there is some intimacy only it and I share and narrate.
I take body images and connect them to my body, so that I remember the infinite in myself, and the care I desire to give created things, including me, but not only me.
I overturn my bias to read for aesthetic value in appearances, and I remind myself that I don’t have the right to declare anything meaningless.
I remind myself that self determination is a muscle we practice as bodily autonomy, often after that autonomy has been restricted or made unattainable in myriad ways.
Any way we can take back the feeling that our bodies are a good thing moves that pendulum somewhere restorative, especially when those meanings get to be chosen and amplified.
When you can touch something on your person and feel connected to something affirming, something centering, or something that holds memory, it’s like a marker for where we grow from there. It’s like leaving traces that remind you what you still find meaningful, what you still want to hold onto and protect.
Maybe even what offers you protection in some small or large way.
If only for a season, or just that moment, let us unlearn how to tell ourselves that it didn’t matter.
It mattered then.
It matters that it mattered then.
It belongs to you.