Saturday, May 21, 2011

little bird

About a year and a half ago, i got my first tattoo: a swallow on my right forearm. I did a lot of research prior to getting the tattoo, partly because i wanted something that would be very meaningful for a long time, and partly because i like to research.

Birds in general are usually symbols of freedom, independence, and adventure, all very important things to me. I began looking into specific birds, such as owls and ravens, to find out exactly what each of them meant. I stumbled across the swallow tattoo and became intrigued by what i learned.

Sailors used to get swallows tattooed on their chests to mark the number of miles they had traveled. Since i was approaching my twentieth birthday, i thought it would be appropriate to commemorate that occasion. Sea travel is dangerous, and being able to say that you have traveled thousands of miles by sea is a mark of honor. I've been through a lot in twenty years, and i am proud of having made it this far.

Swallows are homing birds. They are therefore a promise to the loved ones at home that the sailor will always return, come what may. And because the swallows were usually on the chest, it was an expression of the hope that, should the sailor drown, his soul would be carried to Heaven.

For me, this meant that i recognized my heritage and the power of family and home. I don't know for sure if i will ever live at "home" again. I like living in Quincy, and don't have a powerful desire to return to farm country and my family again. But who knows what the future holds? And even if i never return to Maryland, i have a strong sense of having grown up there. It's the place i was born, the place where my siblings were born, the place of my first words, first steps, first kiss, first heartbreak. It's the place where i grew up, the place where i moved out, the place where my parents were married and divorced. It's the first and last place that my whole family lived together. It's still the place where most of my family lives.

Everything i am comes from who i was. Everything i do comes from where i've been.

The tattoo is on my right arm because i am right handed. When i meet someone for the first time, i shake their hand. I am presenting my history, my background, my identity. Realistically, of course, the tattoo is small and easy to miss if you're not looking for it, but that doesn't matter to me. What matters is the symbolism.

As a writer, every word i pen comes from that same deep understanding of who i've been and where i'm from. Every word comes from that heritage.

And of course, i am doing my best to follow God's leading in my life. Wherever my wings take me, i know that my ultimate destination is to obey God's direction.

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