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.