Rhonda Cagle

Ink It

In Uncategorized on June 8, 2010 at 2:45 pm

Some people fantasize about being rich or thin or powerful. They envision themselves effortlessly entertaining like Martha Stewart or chatting up David Letterman while they promote their latest movie or best selling novel. My fantasy is, well… uh, a bit more eccentric.

For several years now, I’ve toyed with the idea of getting a tattoo. Toyed is the operative word here. I hate pain and am phobic about needles, so thinking about the actual act of getting the tattoo raises my heart rate and makes me break out in a sweat. Hence, this remains a fantasy and not a reality. But still, I dream of ink. Not something cheesy like a rose on my shoulder, mind you, where it’s visible and tacky when wearing a cocktail dress. Not that I wear a cocktail dress all that often. But I digress. My desire to get inked has nothing to do with displaying it for others to see. The tattoo I fantasize about is solely for me.

Momento Mori is the Latin phrase I dream of inscribing on my lower back. Roughly translated, it means, “remember thy death.” I realize inking my back with the admonition to think about death makes me odd in the eyes of my peers. But it’s my body and my fantasy and I believe it’s important to contemplate such things in order to figure out why and how we live. Previous generations thought so, too.

In the days of Roman conquerors, triumphant generals would return from war to the accolades of adoring citizens. But walking immediately behind the conquering hero was a slave whose sole job was to call out to the mighty warrior, reminding him that he would one day die. The call of death served as a reality check for how the warrior lived in that moment, that day.

Momento Mori also echoes in the voice of ancient Christendom. The devout, facing the choice between recanting faith or martyrdom, embraced faith by also embracing death. Remembering the day of death formed the basis of how they lived – even if it was only for another few hours or days. Centuries later, I thought of these ancient saints as I listened to a bishop tell stories of his friends and brothers who were recently martyred in Africa. Faced with firing squads, they were not without fear. The bishop recalled many of them crying and soiling themselves even as they walked toward the soldiers firing at them. But in the face of death, life – its essence and importance – was more clearly seen, felt, grasped, even as earthly hands were stilled.

Our modern western world does everything possible to avoid thinking of death. Desperate for eternal youth, we tuck our tummies, lift our faces, liposuction our backsides, and plump our lips – all for that “naturally effortless” glow of youthful beauty. Meanwhile, our souls shrivel for lack of substance… meaning… purpose.

But regardless of our efforts to avoid and sanitize death, it comes. For my husband, it was at the young age of 56; for my mother-in-law, it was at the ripe old age of 88. Shocking or expected, prepared or not, death is certain. Those left behind examine the footprints left by those who have gone before. Somehow, the shadow of death makes the imprint of their steps more vivid, leaving a clear path in which people like me can follow. Their lives – their breathing, walking, and doing – were filled with purpose. Embracing death’s certainty means living more fully – as if every day is the last.

Momento Mori. Someday death will come for me, too. I think of this even as I walk toward tomorrow. By the grace of God, remembering the day of my death will bring life to today. That’s a concept worthy of being indelible – on my body and soul.

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  1. Wow! I hate tattos just because is painful. It makes me fear before it began. I promise myself never to get one, but I guess to some georgeus gal can be something fantastic. Ummmm…I like the meaning though, for if someday we can remember less and less. I hope not to be in those shoes. I also hope that if you do it, do it so tiny, lil, almost no there. But, anyway we will love you. bahahahaha. You seem to like it a lot. I like people having fun, otherwise why to do it? right? Have FUN my friend!
    ~Great Love to you,
    Mirian from peelingtheorange.

  2. Rhonda,
    I, like you, have a fear of needles but let me tell you it’s not that painful getting a tattoo on your lower back. I honestly don’t remember it hurting much at all and the nice thing about doing the back is you can’t see the needle, which isn’t like a regular hospital needle. I got my tattoo ten years ago and I love it. I’ve never regretted it. It’s something I love that makes me happy and like you said it is in a spot where few people ever see it. I’ve been considering adding two more over the years but always change my mind so I can understand wanting one to the point that you have the design and spot picked out yet never getting it.
    Beautiful blog btw! 🙂

    • Kathy, thanks so much for the encouragement about it not hurting too badly. I am truly terrified but also really want my body art. What is it that you have tattooed on your back and what are you contemplating in terms of additions?

  3. Rhonda, you amaze me. Great word! The Roman soldier reference is one I’d heard many years ago, and made a permenant mark on my heart – it’s a great humilty-checker!
    PS: I also have visions of a beautiful design on my lower back but have absolutely no desire to be ‘inked’. I might get a Henna instead!

    • Maura, a Henna version is probably more my speed. But if I do decide to go for the real deal, I’ll hit you up for an original design that also incorporates a Celtic cross. I know it would be fabulous if you design it!

  4. Rhonda, I love it! There are few words I think I would be willing to carry with me for life, but the phrase you have chosen is just beautiful. I understand that nagging want for a tattoo—I always contemplate getting one, but have never had the audacity to go through with it. The word I want tatoo’ed on me is “Philologia” which means love of learning and words in Latin. Symbolically, I want it on my right foot, but I’ve heard getting it there…ehm…hurts.

    Thanks for blogging again—I love reading!

    • Thanks, Miranda, for reading and commenting. I cannot imagine how cool it would be to have Philologia tattooed on your foot — or how much it would hurt!

  5. I have a sunflower on my back. It’s my favorite flower and I’m not really a flower kind of gal. But sunflowers mean so much to me and I can’t help but smile and feel happy when I see them.
    My additions would be a word that has many deep and different meanings for me. I’d put it on my wrist (so kind of out there for all to see, hence my hesitation). I’ve always wanted the Blackhawks logo somewhere but right now with us winning the Cup it is probably the tattoo du jour so I’ll wait.

    • Ooh, Kathy—I like the idea of having it on your wrist. That’s a good place for a word.

  6. Rhonda – as a fellow needle fobic I never thought I would have a tatoo, but I do. To be more exact 4, and wanting a couple more. One of them quite large. They are nothing like getting a shot, and don’t hurt near as much. I suggest that you do it but start with a little one somewhere that doesn’t show. My first was a small one on my shoulder blade. I love all of mine and don’t regret them. I didn’t get my first one until I was in my late 40’s though. Have someone go with you and don’t look, and tell them you don’t want to see the needle. You’ll be suprised. You’ll know when you’re ready.

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