Tattoos and the Illusion of PermanencyDOUGLAS MCMANAMAN
Like many people, my favorite season of the year is the Fall, which is especially beautiful in Canada.
So what does this passing beauty suggest? Firstly, it calls attention to the heart's desire for permanency and rest. There have been moments in the Fall when I would have liked the earth to stop turning so that the sun would stay in its place. The human heart naturally desires unending rest, for no one desires a happiness that will come to an end. We naturally wish that the happiness we happen to be enjoying at the moment will continue indefinitely. So the experience of time should call our attention to the fact that the human heart has been created for a permanent and more enduring beauty, one that does not continually slip away from us, leaving us empty and searching for more. It has been created for God. The heart that seeks rest here, in the realm of what is passing away, is bound to suffer frustration and disappointment.
This is something that a person has to learn on his own, and this will happen if we listen to the message contained in the overall series of life's stages. For life is indeed a series of stages. I'm not quite sure how many are involved exactly, but if you glance back, you'll notice that things that you once thought you'd always delight in had suddenly lost their appeal, and you moved on to other things. This is something that parents who pay attention to their children are familiar with. This phenomenon continues until we are ready to die. Hopefully, by this time, our hearts will be entirely focused on what is eternal and does not pass away.
Eventually these kids discover who they are, which is why their hair is grown back, and the earrings, nose rings and dog collars come off after a time. I have yet to meet a former student with spiked hair or pierced eyebrows. But what is typical of some kids by no means all of them during this particular stage is the illusion that what I want, what I delight in now, and who I am at this point in my life, will never change. And this is what is particularly sad when tattoos come into the picture. For all practical purposes, they are permanent. Those teens who get them seem to imagine that the tattoo will accurately define them for the rest of their lives, forgetting that this stage, along with the identity that the tattoo provides, is destined to recede into the past. When it does, the earring can be removed, hair grown in, spikes flattened and pants refitted, but the tattoo is there to stay. And the day will come when you will say: "This is no longer me." Your identity will have changed. I don't know anyone who does not look back to his younger days and not laugh at himself. We marvel at the way we dressed, at our hair, sideburns, our ideas, and at the way we identified ourselves. And a tattoo is precisely an artificial means of identifying and defining oneself. But if we continue to grow psychologically, the tattoo is a mark on our body that is destined to belong to another era of our lives that we are going to want to remember only occasionally, and often just for a laugh.
Imagine a toddler choosing a tattoo for him or herself. My daughter would choose a princess, and my nephew would have chosen a U.S. Navy Seal logo insignia. But what mother do you know gets excited about princess back packs, pens, or T-shirts? And my nephew has since moved on to other things. On what grounds do we assume that our world stops developing at adolescence?
The tattoo is destined to provide others with an impression of you that you will no longer want them to have. Why? Because it is no longer you. Thus, your tattoo will have become a mark of regret. The cost, the pain, and the time required to remove one will only be a source of further regret.
McManaman, Douglas. "Tattoos and the Illusion of Permanency." (September 19, 2004).
Reprinted with permission of Douglas McManaman.
Douglas McManaman is a high school religion teacher with the York Catholic District School Board in Ontario. He is currently teaching at Father Michael McGivney Catholic Academy in Markham, Ontario and maintains a web site, A Catholic Philosophy and Theology Resource Page, in support of his students. He studied Philosophy at St. Jerome's College in Waterloo, and Theology at the University of Montreal. Mr. McManaman is currently the President of the Canadian Chapter of the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars.
Copyright © 2005 Douglas
Not all articles published on CERC are the objects of official Church teaching, but these are supplied to provide supplementary information.