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Revising the permanent

03/05/2010

I’m in the drawing-on-my-arm stage. Experimenting with whatever pen is available on a regular basis: squiggles, small leaves, a spiral, teeny tiny stars. For months, I’ve been considering the addition of some beauty – loosely defined – to the bald truth already inked on my arm (see here for previous musings). The pen is my way of making real the self-imposed drop-dead deadline coming up in 5 days.

Why rush? For one thing, the only way I make decisions (from ordering in a restaurant to buying that perfect pair of boots) is when I’m forced to. It isn’t procrastination, really, more a big fat fear of making a big fat mistake. For another, in 6 days I’m going to Philadelphia & Washington DC – the former for play, the latter for a leadership conclave with my pals in J Street. I tell myself: either do what you’re going to do or give up thinking about it. You’re making yourself crazy.

I’ve lost you, you might be saying but here’s the thing: I’ve got a black-lettered tattoo on my right forearm and for some people (read:Jewish people) that’s a problem. A religious problem, perhaps, or cultural taboo. A sign that I’m a little strange or kooky… all of which gives me pause, but not much.

It’s the Holocaust imagery that gives me pause.

Honest to God, I didn’t think a whole lot about the connection to Nazis when I got inked. The Germans used numbers; these are letters (in Hebrew, no less). The Germans tattooed almost universally on the underside of the arm and/or near the wrist; this is on my forearm, running sideways. Besides, I didn’t want to give dead Nazis the power to forever taint what I put on my Jewish skin. I hoped that people would just get over it (and I say this knowing how stinky it makes me sound).

All was going well in my self-absorbed head until 8 months ago. In the middle of a fabulous afternoon with my friend Hannah and her friend Talma, a child of survivors and one of them most radical, out-there, in-your-face, unafraid Israeli feminists I’ve ever met, Talma took one look at my arm and flinched. I support your right to free speech, she said after a minute or two of pointed questioning, but couldn’t you have done that in purple? At that moment, I belatedly realized my responsibility to at least think about keeping other people safe.

I can’t go back in time and use a different color, and besides, I like the black Torah-like lettering. Nor can a black tattoo be covered up with any other color. It’s the baseline. I’m stuck with what I’ve done (not that I regret it – I resolutely do not)… But I can pay attention. Think about ways to lessen the pain, even if it’s for only one person. That’s the truth of living in community.

Stay tuned.

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