My flawed tattoo: A reminder that letting go may be the only way to hold on

The artist wasn’t accustomed to creating imperfect tattoos, but I asked for imperfection; a single word scribbled on my forearm like a IMG_0902note from someone – a note too someone.

No computer font, so precise and formal, or florid script, so graceful and expressive, would do. I explained why my tattoo should be flawed. As artists are want to do he found meaning in my request.

He went to work with pencil and talent and returned with something perfectly imperfect, precisely imprecise.

My dearest friend died recently. Her body gave out and for the final two weeks her only response to doctors and family was a strong heartbeat.

I called from 2,000 miles and a friend placed the receiver to her ear and promised that she could hear me. I sang Bob Marley, off key.  Don’t be afraid I said, I love you, it’s ok to loosen your grip now. Then I joked that she was never much good at letting go.

In our marathon conversations we often talked about the word, now as permanent to me as addiction.

I promised that after our final farewells I would get the tattoo in honor of her and how hard she tried, but also as a warning to me. My friend died because she was sick, but her illness was a wild animal feeding off fear, more aggressive as her trust in the taming power of the word faltered.

The cunning baffling demon – our shared peril – conquered her because she thought she could conquer it.

It’s Ok to go, I told her again — we will all be fine. Your fight is ended.

I have to believe that she came to understand. As her heart weakend, she became resigned to her fate. She finally let go; somewhere beyond the silence, her ragged breathing and failed body, she accepted the blessing.

She was powerless and her life had become unmanageable.

Now we who love her are left to find our way through the over-analysis, guilt and regrets of grief. Or we can find acceptance in all that she was: vibrant and ill; strong and weak; engaging and lonely; a beautifully imperfect person who sought — too often — to please everyone she encountered, blinded to the impossibility of such a feat.

I must not be deceived; I look at the word on my arm to recognize the arrogance of believing I had the power to save her, to prevent her suffering and death.

She and I used to joke that people who are able to drink in moderation have a superpower. They might as well be able to fly, because we can do neither.

My tattoo is fresh and new today, the single word is simple and rough-edged. I remember my friend and long for one more phone call, to laugh and cry and learn answers to unanswered questions.

I try my best to reconcile her struggle against life and escape from herself with the liberation in death from all fear and torment. Maybe the word, so elusive to my lost friend, will provide me with faith, or maybe not.

I look at the tattoo and one thing is certain.
For today, “Surrender” is my superpower.


Maryville: A High Tech Plague in the Bible Belt

The question that keeps going through my head is: what will happen the next time?

Will teenagers and adults think twice before bullying a young girl who claims she was raped? Will the “good people” make it their business when their friends and neighbors are acting badly? Will young men ever learn that it’s not about whether a girl says no-it’s about whether she says yes.

There will be another rape case in Maryville’s future. That is a tragic certainty. Too many boys grow up with a wink and a grin, seeing sex as ax240-3fr conquest rather than as a gift to be shared and treasured, until one day it is no longer about intimacy but power and dominance. When a lone girl steps forward to say she has been assaulted, how will the community of Maryville respond?

This week the fury of a social media movement led by the hackster group Anonymous descended on Maryville like a Biblical plague. It swept through the Northwest Missouri town with Old Testament judgment, asking how the resident of this community of 12,000 people slept at night.

I grew up in Northwest Missouri near Maryville. I have friends and relatives who live there. It pained me to see people who I knew had nothing to do with the alleged rape of Daisy Coleman crying out at the unfairness of national and international attacks on their quiet town. “Most of the people here are good people,” was the universal refrain.

And it’s true. Maryville is a town of  mostly good people. But maybe being good isn’t enough in any community. Demanding that our neighbors be good may be what is called for

I saw one woman on a Facebook note that there needs to be a cultural change. She is right. We need to be more intentional about the responsibilities of community.

I have heard in the past week many Maryville residents say they were unaware of the case until it was reported in the Kansas City Star. I find this disingenuous. I knew about it and I live outside the Maryville area. There were reports that Daisy and her family were bullied relentlessly by teenagers and perhaps even adults.

For every person engaged in this bad behavior there were at least five people who knew about it and did nothing to stop it.  A victim of violence should be able to turn to law enforcement for protection and solace, but more important she should be able to turn to her community.

As the English philosopher, Edmund Burke said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men should do nothing.”

Research has shown that boys learn how to treat women from mothers who earn their respect, and from watching how their fathers treat women. And girls learn how they deserve to be treated from their fathers and the men in their lives.  It is a family, and a community, responsibility.

I read several comments from Maryville residents, including Sheriff Darren White, who were simply glad to see the case behind them.

The hacker group Anonymous set out to make sure that wouldn’t happen. The power of the Internet has been startling. Leaders at the top of Missouri government have joined the chorus and in a move that would have seemed impossible a week ago, a special prosecutor has been appointed to investigate the case.

Some in Maryville have admitted remorse over their community’s silence the first time this case made headlines. Many, on the other hand, are angry and hurt by the attacks that have swarmed like locusts in the past week.

Bibles in the homes of Maryville families recount the wrath of Old Testament justice. In those ancient stories entire populations suffered for the sins of the few.

The wrath of online attacks have been every bit as indiscriminate. While some have chosen to target the boys involved in the alleged rape and the officials who dropped the charges, many of the attacks have been scattershot and filled with vitriol for the entire community.

Many Maryville people are being judged and bullied for something they didn’t deserve. They feel violated.

Others feel a sense of self-blame, a feeling that they should have done something different. Shame is the natural response. Psychologists say that when people are shamed, it is normal to become angry, to make excuses, to cut themselves off from the outside world, or to strike out in vengeance.

The healthier choice is to learn about what is causing shame, to grow more empathetic. Avoid isolation and bitterness.

The people of Maryville will likely remember what has happened to them for some time. They have a choice to make about what they will do with this experience, what kind of community they want to be.

At least they have each other.