My first tattoo is officially old enough to drink today.
I got my first tattoo on my twenty-first birthday, twenty-one years ago, today. It was Finals Week and I had a final exam the next morning, so I couldn’t do the traditional round of drinking myself unconscious. Besides, that really wasn’t my style even then. So, instead, I marked the day my own way. I’d wanted a tattoo for a long time, longer, in fact, than I could remember. And, somehow, I’d gotten it in my head that having a tattoo would make me tough, or at least, make me seem tougher. I’m not sure that it did, especially considering that I hid it from my family for another six months. Not very manly behavior, is it, being too scared to show off my big, tough, tattoo?
But, that’s who I was, twenty-one years ago.
I was a kid who was getting close to graduation, but didn’t know who he was. That feeling of not being enough, not knowing enough, not having enough direction, would send me rushing headlong through life at break-neck speed, never slowing down enough to appreciate what I was seeing, or hearing or doing. It led me to do many things that, in retrospect, I’m not particularly proud of having done. Choices I would sometimes rahter I had not made. I don’t regret the tattoo, though, only the original motivation that led me to get it.
I’m not really that man today.
Twenty-one years is a lifetime.
Time enough to change. Since getting that tattoo, I’ve cheated death, more than once, and I don’t just mean the cancer three years ago. I’ve faced a number of reversals of fortune, both in my favor and not. But, I think, more importantly, is that I’ve learned I’m not my circumstances. Who I am and how I am are both defined by the choices I make.
Today, though, I make much better choices than I did twenty-one years ago. Not always, but, mostly.
And, of course, my birthday wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t mention all the other famous people who had the good luck to be born on this particular day. Famous people like Frank “Chairman of the Board” Sinatra, Jennifer Connelly, Bob Barker, Gustave Flaubert, author of Madame Bovary, Edvard Munch, and Wells Fargo founder, Henry Wells. Not to mention, Mike Pinder of the Moody Blues, Tim Hauser of Manhattan Transfer, Dickey Betts of the Allman Bros, jazz musician Grover Washington Jr, and former mayor of New York City, Ed Koch.
All heady company to be sure, but for whatever reason, it tickles me the most that I share a birthday with Frank Sinatra. I guess it’s because he was such a unique and original character who really fought against and beat some long odds to become an amazingly famous, generally well thought of character. I can only hope to do the same, one day.
So, I don’t know what the coming year will bring, but I know I’ll be in a different place than I am today.
Which is, of course, what I said last year! But, this year, right now, it feels like things are changing and about to change far more than I thought possible last year. I don’t know where the coming year will take me, but I’m sure it will be to places, inside and out, that I never would have suspected possible a year ago.
And, for that, I’m very thankful!
Advice from your Uncle Jim:
"If it falls to your lot to be a dishwasher, wash like Michaelangelo painted pictures, like Shakespeare wrote poetry, like Beethoven composed music... wash so well that all the host of heaven and earth will have to pause and say, 'There lived a great dishwasher who did his job well.'"
--Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.