My tattoo came up in conversation twice yesterday. A male coworker was having a really hard time. He was feeling extremely riled up about the Senate hearings and as I sat in his empty classroom during the recess period, he said that he felt everything was topsy-turvy, that everything he thought was good and just in the world was falling apart.
In short, he was feeling unmoored.
So I told him about my tattoo. I have a small black ink tattoo on the inside of my left wrist. I got it in college, but I had first sketched it out on paper then drew it huge on my bedroom wall! (I wanted to make sure I could live with it on my wall before living with it forever on my body.) Two facing bedroom walls were painted lavender and the others a muted mint green. On one purple wall, there was a rectangle of chair railing painted in white relief around where a doorway must have stood at one time.
In the center of this white frame, I sketched a sun with flames that coiled and looped with artistic sun flares. Within the sun, I drew the sign of infinity done in a Mobius strip manner so that it curled in on itself again and again, like infinity is wont to do.
The tattoo version that made it onto my wrist is a much simplified knock-off of the intricate design on my wall, but it retains its meaning (to me at least):
The Sun, and Infinity.
I told my coworker yesterday that my tattoo represents Constants. In the chaos and unmooring of all life, the sun is a constant (at least in my lifetime). It is extant. It exists whether I can see it or not, whether hidden by cloud or Earth. The sun, as I live, is something I can depend on intrinsically and marrowly.
Infinity, in turn, is also a constant. The idea that time itself, that lines, gravity, mechanical force have no beginning and no end — that there is something that exists that never, ever, ever ends. That is infinite. It’s infinity, for crying out loud! Infinity is something to depend on. It is always there. Esoteric as it is, infinity is a place to hang my internal hat.
I told my coworker that there is not one goddamned thing within or without us that is constant. Politics, morality, safety — not one of these is impermeable. A person on the left has the same intractable righteousness as a person on the right. One person’s idea of what is acceptable human behavior flies in the face of another’s. What was a body that repaired itself one day is a host for disease the next.
Not one damn thing is dependable… except the things that are. Except the choice to make goodness. Except the choice to not be an asshole in the world. Except the choice to keep living a life you yourself consider admirable or upstanding or moral. There is no reward for this. There is no morality prize. There is no blue ribbon at the pearly gates of heaven where we can depend upon a reward for our perceived goodness.
What we have is only the choice to anchor ourselves. I choose to find that relief, that constancy, in my perception of the sun and the inevitability of the infinite.
When, later that same school day, my students were working on a journal prompt to list at least 10 things about which they were curious, one of my 7th graders wrote, “I’m curious about Ms. D’s tattoo.”
And so I told them. I told them that, frankly, we cannot always depend on people. We can’t even always depend on ourselves! And that notion can chuck us off this blue, spiraling space orb so fast that we can completely lose ourselves.
So I choose to remember that there IS something to hold fast to. There are universal constants from which I find relief, comfort, safety, confidence. I find ground in remembering how imperturbable a few things in these cosmos actually are.