Partying like it was 1999 – which it was – I spent a little sliver of my sabbatical from St. Luke’s at Venice Beach. I stayed with my new age, hipster, therapist friend Carey. We went rollerblading. We got our hair braided into a thousand little braids. We got our picture taken with a few outrageous costumed personalities. And we got “tattooed”.
I got a little tiny henna shamrock on my left shoulder.
It did not hurt.
Back home, I would slip my shoulder out of my sleeve and show it off. I showed it off to my kids. I showed it off to my coworkers. I showed it off at church.
“O my God!” people squealed, “Is it real?”
I’d smile slyly and then reveal the truth – the half truth.
“Yes, it’s real, at least for a little while until the shower washes it away.”
My shoulder did itch though. It itched for the real thing.
So on that same Sabbath break, on pilgrimage to the Emerald Isle, on the next to last day of my stay – I walked into a Dublin tattoo parlor. Cheered on by fellow pilgrims, I bravely went forward to get the real deal.
“Could I please get a little green shamrock on my shoulder?”
“Sorry, mam, no appointments today. How about tomorrow?”
My shoulders slumped.
“Tomorrow? I’m leaving on a jet plane tomorrow. Don’t know when I will ever get back to Dublin again. Maybe I’ll get one when I get back home.”
Landed safely stateside, I told my friends this story. I told my coworkers this story. I told my kids this story – the story of the almost shamrock tattoo.
And I told it so many times over so many years, that my kids grew sick and tired of hearing it. So sick and tired, they decided to put a stop to it once and for all.
Christmas, 2011, they gave me the real deal as a gift. And January of 2012 we all went together to JinksProof Tattoo. Zach and Colleen watched as the artist stitched a little four leaf clover on my left shoulder.
First they outlined it. Then they colored it in. Needle worked into my skin, my little shamrock is shorthand for who I am:
A Celtic soul.
Earth mother of three.
Squeamish of needles –
or something like that.
But this outward and visible sign is tattooed where I can discretely hide it away. I can cover it up with a sweater, a shawl, or a blouse – and choose to show it only to those I choose — a game of peek-a-boo of sorts.
And this is our family rule when it comes to tattoos.
Just one, tasteful and discrete.
Colleen, my social justice child has a little peace dove on her foot.
Zach, my film maker son, has Elvis’s TCB Lightning bolt branded on his arm.
Jacob, my youngest, has considered getting a falcon (maybe the Millennium Falcon?) on which part of his person I am not sure.
Just one and we are done. Well, not quite.
In my electronic inbox July 15, 2015, at 10:51 p.m. to be exact, my colleague Chuck McCoart sent me a link to a piece in the Huffington Post. No message, just “Possible blog post idea” in the subject line.
So I clicked on the link and up comes a story about a tattoo. A very special tattoo. A semicolon. There is a picture of a young woman with one tattooed to her wrist. Her name is Amy Bluel and she founded The Semicolon Project.
“A semicolon represents a sentence the author could have ended, but chose not to. The sentence is your life and the author is you.”
Amy got the first tattooed semicolon when she lost her father to suicide in 2013. She was jut 18. Amy in her young life has experienced far more than her share of pain. She is a survivor of the foster care system, sexual abuse and has lived with depression, darkness, and her own attempts at self harm.
But she says it was her father’s suicide “that brought more pain to my life than anything I have ever experienced.”
It could have been her end too.
But instead Amy chose the semicolon. She chose to go on and she founded the Semicolon Project “a faith based non-profit movement dedicated to presenting hope and love to those who are struggling with depression, suicide, addiction, and self injury. Project Semicolon exists to encourage, love, and inspire.”
A great idea for a blog post! But in all honesty I couldn’t blog about it unless I honestly got one myself.
Because in all honesty, I know what it’s like to want to put a big black period at the end of my sentence. Joani Peaoock. The End. Period. Goodbye.
But alleluia, I paused before making a complete and final stop. I punctuated my life with a semicolon – so many semicolons. By the grace of God, I am still here.
So I got one that very July 15, 2015 afternoon. I walked into Great Southern Tattoo and got a little black semicolon on my wrist, a little outward and visible sign of hope and healing. I got one so that I will always remember and never forget — the joy of waking up each and every day – no matter how lousy that day might be. I got it to remember that every single day is a Holy Day.
The semicolon is among the most hopeful of punctuation marks. Lawrence Weinstein writes in Grammar for a Full Life: How the Ways We Shape a Sentence Can Limit or Enlarge Us:
“Grammar offers two means to a personal approach to heart engagement: One is the semicolon. The other is the cumulative sentence.“
Quoting Lewis Thomas, he continues: “It is almost always a greater pleasure to come across a semicolon than a period. The period tells you that is that; if you didn’t get all the meaning you wanted or expected… But with the semicolon there you a get a pleasant little feeling of expectancy; there is more to come; read on; it will get clearer.“Lawrence Weinstein
The spiritual deployment of the semicolon requires intention.
“Without appropriate intention, a [Christian] might as well ingest a wafer at [church] to cancel out the sour taste left in the mouth from breakfast. Without ‘kavanah,’ a Jew may seen to slap his skullcap to his head, in a thoughtless flurry on his way to services that mark the weekly day of rest. As beautifully conceived as any act may be be in term of its potential,” what comes after the semicolon is what matters most. The enlarging of the human heart that it may make room for others “must be yearned for and truly welcomed.”Lawrence Weinstein
So, let us mark the end of this Sabbath with a semicolon. As we leave this place, let us ponder what our intention for the coming week may be. What is the good that we truly yearn for? Can we do a little work this week for this good we hope to welcome into the world? The words printed on the back page of our Sunday bulletin proclaim: our service here does not end; our service continues in the world.
So, with loving intention, may we all embrace this most hopeful mark of punctuation. Make a little space to pray about it and allow God to breathe some life into that pregnant pause.
The Rev. Joani Peacock, Editor for Emmanuel Voices: A Parish Blog