"I never knew you had a 'Star Wars' tattoo," my friend Zach said to me recently at a party. Someone else had mentioned "The Force Awakens," the next installment in the "Star Wars" movies due out later this year, and Zach saw the tattoo on my left shoulder, and thought he was connecting the dots.
"I didn't get the tattoo because of 'Star Wars'," I explained. I'd been searching online for a symbol for "rebel" and only two came up—the emblem for Luke Skywalker's Rebel Alliance and the Confederate flag. Clearly, I chose the right one.
Since I got the tattoo two winters ago, I can't tell you how often wide-eyed teenage boys come up to me in the supermarket aisle.
"That's really cool," they say. "What does it mean?" they ask, decades too young to remember the release of the epic trilogy. After hearing my spiel, they usually walk off in open-mouthed silence, dumbfounded by the unexpected crash course in metaphysics they've gotten while gathering groceries.
My mother's expression also registered complete and total shock when she saw my tattoo last October. I'd walked into her kitchen bare-armed, forgetting to put on the short-sleeve top I'd intended to hide the tattoo with.
"What is that?" she declared more than asked. Tattoos were definitely not feminine accoutrements within the context of my conservative Southern Baptist upbringing. Growing up, even I thought they looked tacky. Plus, I generally eschewed pain every chance I got. And yet there I was, decades later, sporting a rebel tattoo I was proud of.
Here's how it happened ...
"I never had my teenage rebellion," I revealed to my meditation teacher one night after class that same year.
"Are you kidding?" he said. "I've always thought of you as a rebel. You fought your divorce; you're studying Buddhism; you're a lawyer determined to be a writer."
As we've all experienced, life tends to crowd out the past. While wading through boxes in my basement a few summers ago, I'd found evidence of that same girl from my youth, the one who hadn't always walked in lockstep. Passionate speeches I'd written about democracy. An account of the Human Rights Day celebration I helped organize in high school while integration was still in its infancy.
As a young adult, I made many decisions considered unconventional in my small town. I'd run off to law school, then to New York City, and subsequently married a Jewish fellow.
Somewhere along the continuum to midlife, though, I began suppressing that girl. As I grew older, I often kept quiet or soft-pedaled my opinions. And silence and acquiescence slowly ate away at me. Divorce, which seemed like the worst thing in the world at the time, eventually had me speaking up again. The force awakened.
My meditation teacher had also struck a deep chord in me. He mentioned how we sometimes wake up and groan about the one more day ahead when, in reality, it's one less day than we had yesterday. Once we realize we have one less day, today becomes the gift of one more.
I wondered how I could always remember that. I'd taken to sticking Post-Its on my computer screen. Pray. Meditate. Courage. Patience. Love. But inevitably they'd fall off, after I'd already forgotten.
Suddenly the solution came to me.
"I'm getting a tattoo on my arm!" I told my daughters.
"But we were supposed to get one first!" they bemoaned, after absorbing the shock of what their mother was about to do. Both nagged me for years to get their own tattoos, but were still unlinked, even after I had finally said okay.
I described my vision for the tattoo: The symbol for "rebel" would be a reminder to be strong and brave and stand up for myself, with the letters "OLD" tattooed within the symbol to represent the phrase "one less day."
The symbol itself would be green to signify the green pastures referred to in my favorite Bible verse, Psalm 23, a pure land of abundance and tranquility that always existed in the midst of my difficulties. The green was also an ode to Green Tara, the Mother Buddha of wisdom and compassion I longed to emulate.
"Cool," my daughters said, voicing their approval. But they absolutely forbade me to walk around with the word "old" tattooed on my arm, the import of which hadn't even registered with me (which I guess proved their point). So I replaced "one" with the numeral: 1LD.
I paid scrupulous attention to selecting the right tattoo parlor, too, and concluded Resurrection Ink fit the bill for health standards, to say nothing about its perfect name.
The "Star Wars" Starbird symbol is also known as the Phoenix, a symbol that stands for restoration and hope. And for me, a marker for my new life.