Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The Tattoo

This post was my husband's idea. 

I was at the gym on the treadmill. The women on the recumbent bikes behind me were chatting away when I arrived, but then lowered their voices when I stepped in front of them. It suddenly occurred to me when I heard "tattoo" and sighing that I was the reason for the volume adjustment. I've got weirdly good hearing, and was kind of stuck and bored, so I listened to the conversation. 

Before they moved on to all of their friends' children and grandchildren and neighbors and such who'd gotten tattoos, and all the stories about sagging and regret and whatnot, they assessed mine. They concluded that I'd regret it, and they said I should be covering it. 

Honestly I wasn't offended but only wished they would have asked me about it. Because I love to tell people about it. What it is, how it came to be, why I got it.

I'm aware people object to tattoos. I know all about the religious reasons, the moral reasons, the practical reasons, the preference reasons. My folks said, "I mean, it's not my thing, but whatever. You're an adult."  (If you know me and my parents, you know they've become pretty adept at making that statement for the past 18 years.) I knew there would be people who didn't approve, but seeking approval isn't my thing. 

Still. It got me thinking. I didn't think I'd regret it, but would I? I asked the person who knows me best. 

"I think you'll regret it when you're 60," he said. 

"But that's exactly when I plan to be moving back to the mountains!" I said.  

"It just won't hold the same importance in 25 years," he said. "You'll forget why you felt so passionately about it.  You should write it down."


We moved to Asheville under duress. Ryan had been involuntarily relocated by a company he's since left. We had two options -- Iowa or Asheville. We had already lived near the mountains of East Tennessee and had hiked hundreds of miles on the Appalachian Trail and through the Smokies. We felt connected to the mountains -- a spiritual connection that made God physically present for us, and a physical connection that made us realize how spectacular He created us to be. 

Asheville trumped Iowa, and we moved with heavy hearts from a place we called home (Paducah, KY) to the mountains we adored. 

We'd lived there a week when my mom and I took a walk downtown in Black Mountain (our town). She saw a woman walking toward us in a broomstick skirt, wearing Keens or Birks with hair down her back. She wasn't wearing makeup and probably carried a baby on her back. 

"Michelle," she said.  "You've finally found your fashion Mecca."

It was my homeland. It was the first time I felt like I belonged. Every single bit of me belonged. People were open-minded. Happy. Accepting. Family-centered. Earth-friendly. Active. Outdoorsy. Diverse. Interested. Eager to learn. Artsy. Spiritual. 

It wasn't perfect. Some "hipsters" can be presumptuous and condescending; however, we spent time with people our age (and older) who had moved there purposefully. From all over the country, they came to Asheville and its surrounding towns because of the food, the art, the weather, the breweries, the mountains. 

We spent our 10th Anniversary hiking the Appalachian Trail for a week, which reinvigorated our marriage. The mountain streams in Montreat helped energize my mama self. Max Patch renewed my faith in a God who created and is creating. Erin showed me there was room in my heart and life for one more best friend. Central UMC provided us a community in which to help teach our children about The Lord and in which to sharpen our faith with committed friends and clergy. The sunsets at Craggy Gardens, hikes at the NC Arboretum and Biltmore, and the summit at Lookout Mountain allowed us to share the beauty of the earth with our kids. 

The mountains hold a piece of my soul. 

My tattoo is a view from the Blue Ridge Parkway near Asheville. When we first moved there, and I was depressed, confused, and overwhelmed, I would often put the kids in the car and drive the Blue Ridge Parkway. I'd wait til they were asleep and pull over, praying and reveling in the awesome sight. 

We don't live there anymore, and it Breaks. My. Heart. We will live there again. It's my home. 

Until then, there's a picture on my back that brings alive everything about the mountains that makes my soul sing. It's a piece of my soul, artfully illustrated and displayed on the outside of my body. 

Plus it's in a place unlikely to sag. So maybe, just maybe, I won't regret it after all. 


  1. This post brought tears to my eyes. Thank you so much for sharing. I don't have any ink now, but maybe someday. The Buffalo River has been my Wilderness destination and marriage revitalizer for a few years now. I pray you always see the scenery and wonder at God's awesome creation!

    1. Thank you, Julie! The Buffalo River is pretty awesome, too.

  2. Wow! I had no idea! I never would have pegged you as the tattoo type of person!

    Beautiful testament to the love of a place - a love I understand well :)

    1. Ha! It's weird because I was ambivalent about them, but it suits me pretty well, and I've got others planned. (They're super expensive!)

  3. Michelle,
    That is so very beautiful. I think your tattoo is a beautiful statement to your heart and feelings and rock it on. I dont know if you remember me, but I was the one who went to lunch with you and Lindsay. I know we both talked about being runners and this post made me think about a race I ran a few weeks ago. There was a girl running right ahead of me and on her left shoulder in beautiful script read 'This too shall pass' and I thought of all the meanings that held - the mile I was running would pass, the race would pass, everything hard will pass and eventually we too will pass. And I thought about the girl in front of me and what she must have endured to want to permanently have that mantra with her and I said a prayer for her. Some people carry their hearts on their sleeve and now you have the privilege of carrying yours on your shoulder.

    All the best.

    1. Of course I remember you! Thank you so much for sharing this story, Christie. I've come to realize that for some, tattoos hold extremely deep meaning and signify more than meets the eye. A friend who's fighting cancer wrote today that she's planning a tattoo when she "closes this chapter" of her life. I can't wait to see it.

      Congrats on your race! Take care!

  4. What a beautiful post. Tattoos are so personal I think it is rather presumptuous to declare that someone you know nothing about will regret theirs, and if they do what is it to you. I think, like most things, things change meanings or hold more or less importance to us at different times of our lives, but that's ok.

  5. Wow, Michelle, thanks for sharing this! The older I get, the more I realize how important it is to do what feels right (and works) for you, and the more I get bothered by all the people out there sharing their (negative) opinions about the choices that others make. And, I think you're right, you picked a pretty unlikely-to-sag place :)

  6. I love your tattoo. It's perfect - for you and for the years you spent in the mountains. If I were brave I'd get one. Maybe the "M" bridge? Ha!

  7. Thank you all so much for your kind responses. I'm touched and feel very blessed. :)


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