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Something that I do at church, and do really well, is read the scripture. I absolutely love getting up in front of the congregation to read the lesson.  I try to work through it ahead of time so that I know the context and can add the proper inflections to help people connect with the story. (Nothing worse than just a dry reading, but that’s what you see in most churches.)

Yesterday I was doing a reading from Isaiah.  I thought I had nailed it.  So I was surprised when I went back to my seat and Ellen leaned over and said “Better wear your glasses next time. You messed up some stuff.”  I was outraged.

Since one of my other jobs at church is to record the service, I was able to “go to the tape” when we got home. Turns out I messed up two words.

The verse was, “‘Why do we fast, but you do not see? Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?”, and I said “Why do we fast, but you do not see? We humble ourselves, but you do not notice?’”  And the other verse was, “Is such the fast that I choose, a day to humble oneself?”, and I said “Is such the fast that I chose, a day to humble oneself?”

But what really ticked me off was that I was offended – the hell I messed up!  I let my ego get the better of me and had to prove, ostensibly to myself but probably to my wife, that I was right.  Of course, I was wrong.

Damn. Gotta work on that one. Put the ego in the backseat, not the driver’s seat.

The unease set in after I was alone in the house. I had for years wanted to get a tattoo, and I had waited and waited until just the right design spoke to me, and just the right artist was available, and it was just the right time.  Thursday was that day.

But what caught me off guard was the butterflies in my stomach as I went through my morning before the 1:00 appointment.  The nerves weren’t a case of fear of the needle, or fear of the pain, but rather a fear of the permanence of the artwork.  There are No Do-overs. (Okay, Buddhists, I know the drill. Nothing is permanent. My tattoo isn’t permanent. The arm that it is inked on isn’t permanent. This body isn’t permanent. I know.  Just go with me here.)

When I arrived at the studio, I finalized the design details with Jersey, then Seth set about making it into a stencil.  Once the stencil was applied to my arm I got to see really how cool it looked, and was pretty excited to get started.  I sat in the 1960 vintage barber chair, reclined, and Jersey set the needles a-buzzin’.

The first pass with the needle wasn’t so bad. The next few kind of stung, but after a few minutes the skin started to get numb and it was fine. I could really feel it when he had to make a wider line, and the needle stayed in that area a little longer.  That one felt like he was scooping out a chunk of skin.

The first break came after finishing the black outline.  I got a chance to see it in the mirror, and it was still looking fantastic. The next step was adding the color, and after a total time in the shop of two and a half hours, I was looking in the mirror at the finished artwork.  Exactly as I pictured it months earlier!

After I got home I was hit with the second surprise of the day.  Regret.  I was overcome with regret and second guessing.  When the realization hit that this was permanent, I couldn’t go back, and no matter how much I regretted it, there was nothing I could do about it, I was almost nauseous.

Ellen came home from work, and I talked about it with her, and got some external validation, and the regret started to dissipate. My sleep Thursday night was very restless, with several tattoo themed dreams (and lots of tossing and turning).

In the days since then, I have come to adore the tattoo. It is exactly what I wanted, has a lot of meaning, and is nice quality. I’m thinking that the first tattoo is the difficult one – I’ve already started thinking about what I want to get next.   Everyone who has seen it has been overwhelmingly positive.  Even the people that I never would have guessed would be supportive of it are.

Special thanks to Ellen (for the inspiration), The_Kamikazen (for the design), and Jersey (for the ink).  Also a shout-out to Seth, with whom I talked about meditation during our breaks (and who has a nice looking Om on his wrist).



Juggling Buddha Tattoo

Stencil - Black Lined - Color



Here’s what it means:

I chose a “happy buddha” (hotei) because it is a reminder to have a positive outlook on life – not to take it too seriously.  He is juggling to represent keeping everything in your life in balance.   One ball is on the ground because you can’t keep it all in the air – you have to know that it’s okay to set some things down.  Juggling, besides being an activity that I enjoy, also requires you to be present in the moment in order to keep all the balls in the air.

The lotus is the blue lotus which is a symbol of wisdom.  The hotei sits inside the lotus as he continues to gain knowledge.  The inside of the lotus petals are pink, symbolic of the “great buddha”.  As the lotus continues to open, we move closer to the realizing the buddhahood that is in us all.

The balls that are being juggled are colored in the same palette as a tradional prayer flag, each one representing  the elements that make up our existence – the things we are trying to keep in balance.  Blue (sky/space), White (air/wind), Red (fire), Green (water), Yellow (ground).

The Design: The design has changed a little from the one drawn by The_Kamikazen.  Most notably, the platform was replaced by the lotus.  It was something that Jersey changed it on his own. It’s funny because that was the way I had originally visualized the design.  Once I saw the hotei sitting in the lotus, the raised knee didn’t look quite right, so I had him change it to a lotus position.  Jersey also replaced the large circle with a gradient glow.  Everything else is still the same.

Now that the tattoo’s done, it’s time to buy the t-shirt!!

There was a meme going around on Twitter the other day called “tweetyour16yearoldself”, where you send a message to yourself as a 16 year old.  I didn’t think I could do that in 140 characters, so I decided to write my 16 year old self a letter.


Dear 16 year old me,

A couple of notes from yourself here in the future, with the “gift” of hindsight.

Stop grasping for perfection. You will never achieve it, try though you may, and it will make you miserable and unable to see where you have succeeded.

Nothing that you are going through, or will go through, is as bad as it will seem to you at the time. Take a deep breath, and look at the possibilities.

In a little over a year you will get into a fight during school. While it would be better to walk away, it will show you the true nature of one of your closest friends. (And the suspension will be totally worth it!) Trust your instincts – you didn’t need the fight to see this.

Right before you graduate, you will meet the guys who will be your friends for the rest of your life.

Look at things critically. Figure out what you believe in, and stand up for it. Don’t be afraid to get hurt.

It doesn’t matter what people think of you.  They aren’t all talking about you.  You are your own worst enemy in that respect.  Let it go.

Expand your musical horizons. Give those bands that are out of the mainstream a chance. You will like their music eventually, so why wait?

Speaking of different musical tastes – you know those girls with the dark makeup and multiple piercings whose lockers are down the hall from you? Yeah, the ones you were friends with in elementary school? The ones with the Dead Kennedys stickers. Go talk to them.

Be aware that in the future you will not be happy unless you are creating something. Feed that creative monster, and never settle. Take art classes (then you’ll have a reason to talk to those girls). Take photography classes. Push your bounds.

Don’t worry about relationships. Just being friends is okay. (Sometimes, even better.)

The studying and the grades are important, but do some (organized) extra-curriculars. Have some fun. Get involved.

That thing you guys are calling “existentialism”…it’s really more like Buddhism. Start learning about it. You are ready.

Get closer with your dad, he won’t be around forever. (And you will miss him more than you think is possible.)

Explore. Ask questions. Don’t settle. Investigate. Put your pre-conceived ideas away and experience life.


On second thought, let me rewrite that:

Dear Bill,

You will turn out just fine. Don’t change a thing.

Love,

Me

Me at age 16

Me at age 16. Or close to it.

Lisa led me down the hall and pushed open the huge, thick door.  It swung open like it was protecting the mad scientist’s lab (or  NORAD).  Stepping inside, I discovered that it wasn’t too far off.   The room had but one window, and that looked in on The Machine.  Echoing off the walls was a mechanical ticking, grinding, pinging.  Lisa told me to empty my pockets, take out my earrings, and secure them in the locker.  Then she led me through the door into the room with The Machine.  This was my first experience with Magnetic Resonance Imaging.

P4250960
Creative Commons License photo credit: ActiveSteve


Lisa had my lie down on the table, and she put a pillow under my knees.  She secured my head between the headrest, which would prevent it from moving.  To add insult to (literal) injury, she added a mask-like device just above my face, that was supposed to help her (or The Machine?) isolate the cervical spine.  We talked a little about the diameter of the tube that she was preparing to stick me into – it was a little smaller than I had anticipated.  I told her I thought I would be okay, and let’s give it a try.  After I inserted the earplugs, she pressed some buttons and the table raised up, then I slowly was inserted headfirst (and backwards) into the giant machine.

As I slid backwards, there was a tugging at the top of my pants.  I quickly realized that the magnet was trying to grab my belt buckle.  The Machine was eager to get me inside it’s grip.  There were no lights on inside the machine, and although it wasn’t dark per se, it was rather ominous.  I lay there for a few seconds before deciding that I might not make it the 15 minutes that Lisa told me I would be in for.  I asked to be removed.

Knowing now what to expect, I took a few deep breaths, and tried to focus on how my body was reacting to the situation it was in.  Lisa gave me a “panic switch” to press if I needed, I gave her the nod, and I went back into The Machine.  This time focusing on my breathing, and with my eyes closed.

The thoughts started almost as soon as the table bucked to a stop.  The first one, and the one that kept trying to come back over and over was “What if I freak out? My first reaction will be to try to sit up.  I will hit my head on the tube, and will not be able to get out.  I will lie back down, even more freaked out and the cycle will repeat.”  I acknowledged the thought, let it pass, and focused again on my breathing.

Other thoughts tried to insert themselves.

“I’m never getting out of here.”

Breathe.

“Remember that CSI episode where the guy was buried alive?”

Breathe.

“Is this what the aliens will do when they capture me?”

Breathe.

“What is The Machine doing to my body?”

Breathe.

“Why must it make these banging noises?”

Breathe.

And, the weirdest one: “What do I do if I have to sneeze?”

As The Machine went through it’s cycles I tried to be mindful of what I was sensing, rather than the thoughts that were coming quickly.  In the second to last test, The Machine was making a series of pulse-like mechanical noises, and I started to really listen to them.  It was interesting to hear how the sound would start, stretch, and end.  With a little bit of concentration, I was able to slow down each “note”, and really listen.

The final sequence was accompanied by a five-minute long steady electro-mechanical hum.  While I wouldn’t call it exactly soporific, it did have a certain peaceful quality and I found myself relaxing a little more.  I discovered that I had been tensing my arms, and as they started to relax, they wanted to slide down toward the table.  I had to re-tense them as I had been told to lay as still as possible when The Machine was operating.  But I did let my mind drift a little, and was beginning to feel the familiar descent into sleep when suddenly The Machine stopped and Lisa said “We’re all done.”

After I was slid out, I sat up and welcomed the seemingly endless space of the small room I was in like it was an old friend.  I stumbled out of the room, grabbed my things and escaped into the fullness of the outside world.

My MRI

...to really know someone, you have to look inside.

My father died 15 years ago, just months after Ellen and I got married.  I had a very difficult time with it right off the bat, but had to remain strong for the family (I think it’s an oldest thing, right?).  So, I didn’t say a whole lot as the months passed and my mother, brother, and sister started going through his belongings.  It’s hard to stay in that loop when you live 10 hours away.

As they went through things, I know that my sister spirited things out of the house.  She and my dad were very close, and I don’t begrudge her taking things that were important in their relationship.  My brother, I was told, didn’t want anything and didn’t take (hardly) anything at all.  However, if you look around his house, you will find my dad’s things all over the place.

But the upshot of this is that I really don’t have anything that belonged to my dad.   I’m kind of all right with that.  Sad, but all right.  The only thing of his that I really wanted was his jewelry box.  It’s just a neat little round top box made of leather with some designs on the outside.  But I have very strong memories of that jewelry box associated with him.

The last time I was at home (this past summer), I snuck into the room where his stuff is still stored, and picked up the box, opened it, and looked at the treasures it still holds.  Nothing fancy – some tie tacks, necklaces,  scraps of paper, and his wedding ring.  I said my goodbyes, knowing that if I hadn’t been given the jewelry box in fifteen years, it wasn’t likely I was ever going to get it.  It was time to stop holding on to it.  It was the last thing that I wanted to have of his, I wasn’t going to get it, and it was time that I made peace with that.

I thought I had.

My sister is getting married in three weeks.  She and her fiance decided to have their rings custom made.  I think this is a wonderful idea, as they are very artsy people, and I’m sure that the rings will be not only beautiful, but extra special to them.

My mother told me tonight that she is giving my sister my father’s wedding ring.  Not to hold on to.  Not to cherish as a piece of my father’s memory.  But as something to melt down to add to their rings because the cost of gold is so high right now.

[That sound you just heard was my jaw dropping to the ground, and all my insides squeezing my heart until it was ready to leap out of my chest.]

She went on to say that she didn’t give it to me or my brother because it would never fit us, it’s too small, and besides, “I never offered it to you.”  I was floored.  I didn’t know what to say.  It was very unexpected.  Fortunately she dropped this on me while we were on the way in to the restaurant where we were picking up dinner for the family.   I redirected us to the menu and focused on the task at hand while I tried to process this news.

Now I have my heart and my head competing with one another.  My heart says that here is this thing that belonged to my dad, and was a part of him, and she wants to have it melted down.  It seems like it is the last bit of my dad, being melted away.  After this, he will be gone.

But that’s stupid.  My head says it’s just a thing. It is a hunk of metal.  It isn’t my dad, that’s ridiculous.  It has no meaning other than that which I assign to it.  And even if I were to assign this tremendous emotional value to it, what better way to have this “value” live on than for it to become part of my sister’s wedding ring.

I see it. It’s suffering caused by attachment. I get it. I really do. I know my head will win this battle, I just need to sit with it for a while.

And maybe it’s time I really did say goodbye to my dad.

The One Ring
Creative Commons License photo credit: Playadura*