The first time, I did it out of sheer exasperation. To give myself a beautiful scar. To commemorate the heart palpitations and anxiety, the frustration and fits of anguish. I heard the word wa from my school librarian as she read aloud to my 5th grade students. It echoed in my head as if it had been uttered into an enormous empty cauldron. My heart grasped onto the word, wa, Japanese for harmony, and held on as the current of my angst rushed by. True harmony eluded me, so I would have it sewn into my skin. That is how the kanji characters cho wa came to be inked on my back.
This time, I did it to celebrate. To honor the gut-guided navigation out of the storm of anxiety and into the calm of self-reflection and acceptance. With this tattoo, I payed homage my ancestors, voyagers who traveled across wide oceans of unknown to settle on idyllic specks of land. I also honor my beautiful Portland neighborhood, Ladd's Addition. The marks include bird footprints for safe travels, shark teeth for protection, warriors for strength, and a honeycomb pattern that calls to mind nourishment and unity. This salute to changing the direction of my life took artist Dave Rodriguez a little over an hour complete. The pain that accompanied the art made its own unforgettable impression.
For me, these tattoos are marks of passage. And, although they are visible to others, they are fiercely personal. They are the degrees I have conferred upon myself. The badges, not of achievement, but of self-acceptance. I bear them proudly.
- Daphne Jenkins