While I can’t yet say all that this tattoo commemorates for me, there’s a little bird I’d love to tell you about.
Gather blankets and tea if you will.
Long ago, swallow tattoos were popular among sailors.
These birds with their tiny wing spans never travelled that far out to sea. Sailors, battered, bearded, (yeah, even the women I imagine!), and full to their guts of rough seas and rough food looked up. They weren’t looking for the horizon, they were looking for any sign that it existed.
The appearance of the swallow was a sign to a weary crew that there was indeed a shore. That their voyage, every storm, every wave, every becalmed sea where nothing moved, the waiting and star navigating and plotting paths, was coming to an end.
I can only imagine how their hearts must have gone out to those little birds. How much hope the sight of those little wings beating above them must have carried. And I can understand why the swallow tattoo became a sign of hope and horizons.
Over the years I have travelled, as you do. The hardest travelling were the voyages I undertook while deciding to stay at home. The days I made myself show up for the reality of my life and deal with the dark. When I stopped and decided to really see this thing out. And in the midst of this travelling one beloved woman said to me, “I can’t wait to see you with wings and flying.”
At the time her words were a vague hope of a shoreline I didn’t even know how to aim for. I remember sitting in the chair opposite her picking at the leather arm rest. It was well picked. And it was that kind of chair.
So I sat there.
I mean that. I could not have stood if I wanted to. I didn’t know how to get my feet underneath me, much less find wings. But this woman saw something in me. And she held hope.
Many years on and I can say I finally looked up. And I did indeed see evidence of a horizon. I found I had my own wings on my own back awaiting my discovery of flight.
When thinking about the right tattoo to embody where I am today I knew only that I wanted a bird. I wanted there to be wings on my arm and the dates where evidence of that horizon first took place. It was only after that I learnt about swallows and what they meant all those moons ago to weary sailors. I guess we often know what our hearts are trying to say before we can find words.
So, here’s to flying, to waters passed and those still to come before I reach the shore and to all the waters I still hope to venture into. This tattoo is for to all those who believed in my ability and for me. The woman who found the darn wings and finally decided to see what the bloody things could do!