I’ve always loved tattoos. I got my first right before the first Gulf War. I was stationed on the USS John F. Kennedy (CV-67), based out of Norfolk, VA. We had received word that we had 72 hours before we had to get underway to the Mediterranean and then the Red Sea. Two of my buddies and I had talked about getting tattoos before, but there was a certain urgency to it now. We drove around, found a tattoo parlor out in the suburbs, did the paperwork, and got our ink. I found a cross with a rose wrapped around it, and got it on my left shoulder blade. Since then, I’ve gotten two others; one on my chest, the Orthodox Trisagion prayer in Greek, and the “NIKA” sign on my right shoulder blade.
Got my fourth tattoo this past weekend from Zac over at Ink 66 Tattoo in Columbus, GA. Good work, and a nice guy who was pleasant to chat with while getting stabbed over and over by those tiny needles.
The back story: I’m going to cut and paste something from The Collective Quarterly (www.collectivequarterly.com), which is a magazine dedicated to storytelling, place and people. This struck with me and really seemed to sum up where I am in my life right now:
“In 2012, a war correspondent named Anthony Shadid died in Syria on assignment for the New York Times. A life like his defies summary in a few sentences: He won the Pulitzer Prize (twice) for his coverage of the Iraq War. He was shot by a sniper in Ramallah. He was kidnapped and tortured in Libya.
War reporting is serious business. We don’t pretend to be doing anything nearly as consequential as what Mr. Shadid gave his life for. But that life has been a powerful reminder to us of the critical importance of witness in storytelling. Bill Keller, the former executive of the New York Times, wrote in tribute:
“First, he understood the basic rule of reporting: always go. He went to places that were inaccessible and dangerous and miserable—not as a daredevil or adrenaline junkie, not recklessly, often reluctantly, always with the most meticulous and careful planning—but he knew you had to be there. You had to see it.”
As storytellers, we believe in the power of observation. Don’t rely on second-hand information. Don’t just call someone. And certainly don’t read about it on the Internet. Always go.”
It’s so easy to get stuck in a rut, particularly when you’re in your late 40s. Job, responsibilities, a general idea of what is secure and safe, can all contribute to the basic ennui we often feel. When I was younger, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. I knew I wanted to experience things, though, and to go places that were new and exciting and not what I was familiar with. I don’t really remember talking about that too much with anyone, but not long before my dad passed away, he asked about my journal from the Navy. I told him that I never really kept a journal, and he seemed surprised by that. Then he said, “Well, I always thought if anyone in our family was going to write a book, it would be you.”
Last year was hard for me in a lot of ways. Lots of loss. My dad passed away, as did three of my dogs. A relationship that I thought was “it” ended, as well. (We’re still friends.) Maybe it’s not surprising I went through a period of introspection. I’m a pretty resilient guy, but it was a struggle. We all come face to face with our own mortality eventually, and it’s easy to look back on your life to see what you did with it. In general, I’m proud of my life; what I’ve accomplished, what I’ve seen, who I’ve become, and who I’ve loved. But there were a lot of missteps along the way, as well, and I allowed myself to forfeit many of the things I thought I would do. I’ve always tried to live my life with no regret, but it’s hard not to have some. I guess this is my mid-age “crisis,” but I’m thankful for taking this important lesson from it: that it’s never too late to see the stars, to ride the waves, to start some shit, or to love again. I hope to do all of those things and more in the time I left left on this Earth. I hope to do many of them with my friends and family, but I’m not afraid to do them alone if I need to.
Always go. And never look back.