I swore I’d never get a tattoo. The biggest reason was because while serving in the Marine Corps, I had to remove several inappropriate ones from Marines who, while drunk, made bad choices: a girlfriend’s name which was no longer relevant, an obscene slogan, or one that was visible outside the uniform. This was before the days of laser removal, so they’ were made to come to the infirmary where I would anesthetize the area and rub salt over the tattoo until it bled. Two weeks later, we’d repeat the process until the tattoo was replaced by scar tissue. A painful procedure which left a mark that would last a lifetime…just like a tattoo. I didn't want one, because I knew that no matter how much I liked an image, I couldn’t be sure I’d want it on my body for as long as I lived.

Image hosting by PhotobucketUntil I saw this: a picture of a flaming sword rising from a lotus flower. I wanted it on my left arm. It’s a Buddhist symbol of enlightenment: the lotus rising from the mud is our path to awareness, the flaming sword destroying ignorance, and the two headed birds symbolizing the individual and the Higher Power are both one.

Image hosting by PhotobucketA few years later, I ran across a drawing by the German mystic, Jacob Boeme. It, too, symbolizes the path of enlightenment. One must leave behind Earthly Passions (dragon) and Evil Desire (snake) to realize God’s Love (flaming heart). The eye with a single teardrop represents awareness that each one of us is connected to a Greater Whole. The rainbow is not the end of the path; it signifies you're going the right way. All you need do is exercise Faith (cross), Hope (anchor), and Charity (rope), to fly free and be part of the Great Light. This one is on my other arm.

Both these tattoos are over five years old. The ink is still vibrant because they were made using Japanese inks that resist fading. I also apply SPF 40 sun protection every day.

My inkwork is a little too complex and symbolic for a traditional tattoo. But they both say something I want to have on my body, and be reminded of, for the rest of my life.

PS: Interestingly enough, the Military is so hard up for new recruits, they're relaxing the ban on visible tattoos—as long as they are not on the head or face. And, of course, not “extremist, indecent, sexist or racist.". The names of ex-lovers are still okay, though—just kind of embarassing to explain to your new Love.