It is mind-boggling to me how quickly things in life can change. In a matter of seconds, everything can be different: one moment you are a child, the next an adult, one moment you are single, the next engaged, one moment you are a renter, the next a home owner, one moment you are a couple, the next a family—and the list goes on.
While I haven’t experienced all of these changes particularly, I have made a few of my own split-second decisions, which led to prompt changes. Each of them is significant, and each of them has shaped the person I am becoming.
Something I feel we often forget is that many changes in life can be undone: you can sell your house or car, change career paths, get divorced, or even return a shirt you bought at the store. Undoing changes can be a good and bad thing; they can bring healing and they can bring hurt.
On the other hand, just as many changes in life are permanent: the loss of a loved one, the birth of a child, the pictures you post on the internet which seem to continue showing up no matter how many times you have removed them. Permanent changes inherently carry more weight, merely by definition.
On a sunny Wednesday afternoon, a long-time friend and I sat in a booth at a local coffee shop eating pastries, sipping javas, and laughing in a carefree fashion. It was our first semester of our freshman year of college, and I suppose that single large change wasn’t quite big enough for the both of us. As one topic led to the next, our conversation by some means steered to the subject of tattoos.
I am unsure of how exactly it happened, but not even a half an hour later, we were sitting in opposite chairs at a tattoo parlor down the street, completely ready to be inked. The crazy thing is, I do not remember having any hesitant feelings at all—I was wrapped up in the whimsy and fun of it all.
We walked out of the tattoo parlor together feeling independent, valiant, and larger than life. My friend had chosen to get a small hummingbird tattooed on her ankle, while I went for something literally larger than life:
On my left forearm, sits the entire world. What I mean to say, is that I got a tattoo of the world map flat-laid across my arm. I love travel and I love adventure, and it seemed completely fitting.
The part of getting a tattoo which I failed to take into account, was the various reactions of others which ensued immediately and continue to this day. Of course, my family member’s responses were among the first: I still cannot forget the wide-eyed look my mother had on her face—it was one of sheer disgust and horror. My brother cried, my uncle teased me, my sister was completely speechless.
Not all the feedback was destructive. My tattoo has proven very popular among friends, barista’s, and frequents of vinyl stores. And over time, my family has grown to fancy it too.
The completely dippy element is—everyone has an opinion to report on my choice. Random people I pass in public or complete strangers at literally any place in the world feel it necessary to give their outlook on my left arm—positively and negatively. Sometimes people are vivid with their words, and other times their expressions and body language do all the talking.
My whimsical decision to make a permanent change has taught me an important lesson: our choices and actions will have an effect on the people interacting with us whether we intend for them to or not. If you choose to have a child, the person sitting in the office waiting room is going to have an opinion of that child, whether it is crying or sleeping or laughing. If you choose to get divorced, the person across the counter at the drug store is going to have an opinion of you when you take your hurt out on them in the form of frustration.
Picture the ocean for a moment.
It is massive and bluish-green and waves are crashing against the shoreline. Whatever the context of your imagination, I can tell you exactly what you are envisioning: the surface.
We have only ever been accustomed to see the shell of the largest piece of the earth. Beyond our vision is more natural life and activity than we can know, but we continuously and instinctually see the surface.
I don’t think the solution is to change that part of ourselves; seeing the ocean as merely the surface has much to do with the functionality of our eyes and the messages they send to our brain. Altering our biology is not the answer.
What we can change, is the way we judge, treat, and react to others—even over something as insignificant as a tattoo. We have no control over the feelings, emotions, and responses of others in part to our own actions, because they only see what is on the surface. It is entirely frustrating, I will admit, but the only way to subdue adverse reactions, is to become exceptionally wise, humble, and forgiving in our own actions.
I am a rather carefree person; it does not bother me when people give their opinion of my tattoo. I know it is in human nature to be curious, candid, and even concerned.
To avoid conflict, I have to focus on my own ocean—not just the part that people see.
In an age where it is easier than ever to give an opinion, it is more difficult than ever to find common ground. Escaping conflict does not mean that we dodge everyone who has a different opinion than we do. I seriously doubt there would be very many people left if that were the case.
Do not let your own insecurities keep you from freely engaging with others.
I know that the reactions to my tattoo will likely never stop. That is okay. What I see when I look at down at my arm is not just some ink, some art, or even some mistake; I see my life in experiences. I see little red dots on all the places I have been, and those dots remind me of the incredible memories I have made, beautiful things I have seen, and remarkable people I have met. I look at my tattoo, and I see my story; I recall how it has intertwined so perfectly with the stories of others, and I am able to identify the hand of God throughout.
My permanent decision, while having somewhat naïve beginnings, cultivated a treasure and some fresh perspective. Upon reflection, I have concluded that the biggest changes often do happen in the shortest amounts of time—whether that be by the signing of some papers, the flip of a switch, or even the fleeting pinch of a needle, hastily producing another little red dot.