I was paying for some items at a retail store this week when the cashier noticed the tattoo on my left shoulder. He commented, "Your tattoo is really pretty. But I have to ask: did it hurt?" That question is asked of me from time to time, and I responded in the same way I usually respond. I truthfully said, "Mostly it stung when they worked right on top of my collarbone."
Did it hurt?
When asked that question, I always pause for a second as I consider a quick and appropriate answer versus a deeply honest answer.
Did it hurt?
Two years prior to my ink placement, I was processing my daughter's diagnosis of cancer. I remember clutching at my chest as if my hands could have possibly supported my heart as it tore apart piece by piece.
One year prior to my afternoon at the tattoo parlor, I was lying beside Katie in a hospital bed. As she held my hand, I told her simply and honestly that she would die soon.
Every day, I wake up knowing that my daughter is not in her bed. She will never sleep there again. She will not sit down for dinner. She will not wear the clothes that hang in her closet. She will not go to prom or graduation or a wedding.
So did the tattoo hurt? Kind of . . . but not really. While physical and emotional pain are different, they do intertwine to a great degree. At times, emotional pain can drown out physical pain; other times, it can be exacerbated by it. But, to be honest, I wanted it to hurt. I needed the physical sting as I worked through the emotional throbbing. It provided a catharsis that day.
The other comment people occasionally offer is: "You know, that's forever." What I usually say is, "I know." But what I want to say is, "Duh. That's why I got it."
Truth is, I don't know exactly how long a tattoo will last. I mean, I know it is permanent as we define the word. It will stay visible on my skin as long as I live on earth. Beyond that, I do not know. Is a tattoo just for this life? Will God remove it in heaven when he gives me an eternal body? Will it stay with me, truly, forever? I am not sure. I do know that it will be with me at least until I see Katie again. So when someone says, "You know, a tattoo is forever." My honest response is: "I don't know if it is forever, but it is no less than the time until I see my daughter."
Painful and permanent. That is what I wanted . . . what I needed . . . when seven flowers were inked onto my shoulder. It was something I had thought and researched and prayed about for many months. It was something for me to see. To touch. To feel. Something to remind me of brokenness. And redemption.
In Isaiah 49:16, God says, "See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands." I love the thought of God having my name tattooed on his palm, a very tender part of the body. I like to believe that if he were exchanging money with a cashier and she glanced at his hand, seeing the name Sarah, she might ask, "Did it hurt?" And maybe he would think about me and smile as he answered, "Kind of . . . but not really."