Sunday, December 19, 2010

Tattoos and Parkinson's Disease

At 16 years old, Diane’s life had become unbearable. Dark, hopeless, friendless, her world held no attraction, no future, only empty existence. The note she was writing to those who occupied places in her life would be explanation enough for what would happen next. Sitting on her bed in the basement room she occupied in her parent’s home, the razor blade lay ready beside her. Soon the pain would be over she thought, she would be free. It was not the drama of ending her life that appealed to her. It was simply killing the meaningless life that she hated.

Now 25 and married, Diane’s story had tumbled out as she explained the tattoo script that swirled in cursive text over the veins on the inside of her wrist. There was still a hint of agony in her eyes as she remembered those tearful times. She stopped speaking at some points, unable to continue as she blinked the forming tears away. But as her story unfurled a smile began to grow. Her eyes began to glisten, not with tears but with a joy that you see in a child’s eyes on Christmas morning. Her eyes were illustrating the story, a story of hope, of miraculous rescue, of waking up after a long night’s sleep.

Diane’s tattoo said it all: “I Choose”.

I used to be afraid to ask about tattoos, or stare too long at the images emblazoned across some burly biker’s arms. Maybe it was fear that I would not exactly resonate with the personal story or meaning behind a smiling skull design. From my vantage point, tattoos often seemed to be marks of defiance, mementos of accomplishments or silent messages to disinterested observers.

But Diane’s was different. The swirling letters formed an ink-stained bracelet on the inside of her right wrist, best seen when Diane’s palm was face up. And the message was upside down to me, obviously meant for her more than me. Regardless, the two words etched into Diane’s wrist spoke to me. They cried out for completion, for a noun. I asked, “What is the significance of your tattoo?” “Life” she answered quietly confident. “I choose life.” It was a part of her history, a pledge for the present, and a promise for her future.

We may not all face that dreadful, dark moment when something beckons us to end it all, to seek permanent relief from the pain, release from some inner or outer torment. But we all fill in the noun in Diane’s tattooed phrase. What do you choose? Life? Even if it means living in the prison of Parkinson’s? Hope? Despite the expectations, promises and dreams that lay at your feet, dashed to pieces like some precious pottery knocked from your hands? Or do you choose the self-pity, bitterness or anger that wells up in you as you are forced to watch the increasing loss of control over your life and limbs.

We all choose. Even if we refuse to choose for fear of choosing wrong, we still choose. I won’t be sprinting to our local ‘Sinister Skin Tattoo and Body Piercing Salon’, but Diane and her tattoo have challenged me. I need constant reminders of:

1. My choices in the past. Good or bad, I can learn from them;
2. My need to make choices now, not to procrastinate. To live intentionally, choose wisely; and
3. My commitment to make daily positive choices in the future when it becomes difficult to get out of bed, exercise, socialize, and square off against my enemy.

Those are great words to live by: “I Choose!”

1 comment:

  1. Someone very close to me has chose the "self-pity,bitterness and anger that wells up in you as you are forced to watch the increasingn loss of control over your life and limbs" scenario for dealing with her end-time problems at age 90. It's become so stressfulf dealing with her, as she accuses others of her being in her position. Of course, dementia plays a part in that so you can't blame her but the disease. I pray at some point she'll change to this attitude of "I choose life".