For awhile now, I have been debating whether I wanted to get a tattoo or not. My fraternity brothers got Frat Tats back in our Senior Year at SMU. I chose not to partake in this, because that was not how I wanted my first tattoo to go. Over this past year, I have become more and more intrigued by the idea of adding some sort of permanent decoration to myself: art that means something so real and so important to my very core that I feel the need to add it. I have seen the removal process, and I do not want to go through that torture.
A couple Mardi Gras ago, I made an appointment at Electric Ladyland, but I decided to cancel it. If you ask Clayton, he might tell you I chickened out. Who knows. But since then, the desire became a real thing to me. When I took this job abroad, I knew things would change in my life. It is funny thought. Most people think, “Oh you moved 7,000+ miles away, you must miss your family.” But I have actually spent more time with them since I became an expat. I also talk with each of them more now than I did when I lived in Memphis. I grew up the youngest of four as the only son. These pieces add up to a lot of who I really am. All aspects of my life has been influenced by different parts of their characters and mannerisms. Getting a posh consulting gig abroad could have led me to become an ego-centric jerk. I think one of the main reasons it hasn’t is my connection to my family.
Due to all of this, I decided that I wanted my first tattoo to represent the connection to reality faith that my sisters have each given me. I also like tattoos that have multiple meanings on different levels. I did not want to get a tattoo that was just flags of the countries I have visited. I didn’t want anything cheesy that would lose significance over time. I have always seen linguistics and typography as a cool insight into a culture. This is what led me to look at language groups for each of my travels.
There is a well-recognized verse in the Bible:
11When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I set aside childish ways. 12Now we see but a dim reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. 13And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love; but the greatest of these is love.…
1 Corinthians 13:11-13
If you have ever attended a wedding in the South, you have probably heard this. Maybe you have seen it alluded to in Wedding Crashers, even? These three things: Faith, Hope, and Love have been pillars in my ability to stay strong in my time abroad. They have served as a comfortable place for my own growth. Each of these represents aspects that I relate to my sisters.
FAITH (श्रध्दा – Śraddhā)
My youngest sister, Kristi, has always been very close to me. We went to high school 200 yards apart. She was friends with the older class on the lacrosse team. We rode together to school for 3 years. I followed her to SMU for college. I even took her same major. We had the same professors. After graduating I took her desk at Buxton when she left. I even picked up one of her old customers. We are very close. He three daughters mean the absolute world to me. The area where Kristi differs most from me, is her unwavering faith in God. She was in RUF Core Group at SMU. Her best friends from that remain to this day her closest friends. She works for her church. Her husband is a deacon or elder (I don’t actually know) of their church. She has deep roots, and her faith is strong. When I go through difficult times, I know she will always provide a grounded answer.
I chose to use Sanskrit for this word. Sanskrit is a beautifully written language. It contains a horizontal line across the top. This allows for some interesting framing options. The Sanskrit represents my travels to India, Nepal, and Sri Lanka. I also like that this part of the world is so entwined with FAITH. When you think of the Himalayas, you probably imagine monks meditating or people doing yoga. This all surrounds the idea of faith to me.
HOPE (أمل – Amal)
My eldest sister, Joelle, has always been an inspiration to me. It is natural that we all looked up to her throughout childhood. Even when she was tricking us into doing her work for her so she would make the lion’s share of the money, we thought the world of her. Joelle and I are very similarly intellectually. Our IQ scores and standardized tests are right on par with each other. We approach problems in very similar manners. This is another reason that I value her opinion so much. This past year, she has been a beacon of hope for me. She offers insight professionally and personally in my life. When I am worried about outcomes, she gives me realistic hope. My favourite verse growing up was Jeremiah 29:11 “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘Plans to give you a hope and a future.'” This is often taken out of context. But in my studies, I came to learn that true HOPE is looking forward to something that you know will happen. Joelle exemplifies HOPE in my mind.
For HOPE, I decided to use the Arabic word “amal.” The Arabic language is written right-to-left. This allows for a clockwise flow of the words in the type. It also has a strong horizontal line at the base of the word. With this feature, more balance is achieved to complete the opposing Sanskrit. With my first international position in Saudi Arabia, I was able to travel throughout much of the Arabic-speaking world: Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, UAE, Qatar, Jordan, Lebanon, Oman, and Egypt. This area is commonly viewed as a warzone. In this way, I believe that HOPE is absolutely necessary to thrive.
LOVE – ( – Eban – Fence)
My middle sister, Karena, fits the archetype of Middle Sister almost perfectly. Growing she was always there for me. She has chosen to be a nurse by profession, and in her career, she has lived for two years in South Africa working for the better of mankind. She truly cares for others. Anyone who has met Karena has a better understanding of what LOVE really means having known her. If she has anything that can better your life, she will make it her mission to ensure that you have that something too. She is selfless, caring, loving, and devoted. It is hard to forget this kind of personality. Karena was always loving to me during my travels. She listens to any medical issue I might have. She truly cares for me.
For LOVE, I knew I needed to represent my travels to Africa: Tanzania, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, Zambia, and South Africa. There are so many languages in the African continent, but Adinkra stood out, since it is symbol-based. I knew it could help complete the overall image. Yes, I realize that this is a West African language, and I have not visited yet. But I will. Another reason LOVE needed to represent my time to Africa was the driving force behind my African Adventure was Marianne’s wedding to Pieter. Eban represents a security and safety that a fence would provide. Like an Aegis of the olden days, LOVE protects you. That is what Africa needs for sure.
As I formulated the idea for the tattoo, I first saw it as three separate symbols, representing my three sisters individually. But as I worked through the visuals, I realized that all three needed to be together. They are not separate pieces of me, but instead blended in my personality, almost impossible to pull apart. In the same way, the image needed to be conjoined as one image and identity. The symmetry of the languages and the rotation of direction balances around the symbol. I drafted up a rough sketch, and made my way to Beirut. My friend Antoine helped calm my nerves about getting the first tattoo, and he gave advice about finding the right shop.
I spoke with Khalil to get advice on specific locations in Beirut. He had heard great things about Shadow Ink and their artist, Tony. I reached out and set up my appointment. It was all very easy. The difficult part was finding the actual location. But I called Tony, and he helped direct my cab nearby. Tony actually personally came and picked me up to take me to the shop.
Walking in, I had no clue what to really expect. There was Tony, a younger guy, and a cute girl. Okay. This isn’t scary. I can do this. I explained who I was and began working on the idea with Cynthia. This girl has impressive skills with sketching. Nareg began to explain the actual process to me while Tony worked to bring the sketches to a final design. We also bonded over our mutual fondness for the show Vikings. After an hour or so, we were ready to go.
As Tony fired up the needle, I knew we needed some kind of music to drown out the metallic BURRRRRRRRRTTTTT. Nareg put on none other than BB King. My nerves instantly settled, and I knew I had selected the correct place. Hours passed, and Tony continued to add depth and shade to the design. Once the preliminary image was in, I felt I could trust him. Tony then informed me that he wanted to add some shading and some custom pieces. Of course. Go for it. At this point, I cracked open a beer and waited for it to finish. I then suggested that we listen to Chris Stapleton – Tennessee Whiskey. It was the perfect end to the tattoo.
Finally done, I took my first full look. Tony had added mementos from my trip to Lebanon: Church on the hill, the Moon, Tree of Life, Cedar. It was perfect. The actual tattooing felt like a small cut or burn while it was happening. It wasn’t unbearable, but it was noticeable. The after effect was that of a bad sunburn: tight skin, itchy area, irritating pain. But nothing bad. I am very happy with my first tattoo. I love what it means and represents.
After everything was completed, I spent the night hanging out with the crew and their family and friends. I feel like I made some true lifelong friends in that shop. I guess we are bonded in ink. Thank you to Shadow Ink Tattoos, Tony, Nareg, Cynthia and everyone else. The night is truly unforgettable…