What’s in a Tattoo?

8:00AM and I am in an unfamiliar part of downtown Oakland, in a shuttle bus and starving. I figured the bus driver would likely know the best cafes on his route so I asked him. I was not disappointed!

Although there were boarded up shops nearby, there was also a newly renovated theatre, and right next door the recommended café. It looked welcoming and showed renewed vitality in the city. As I walked in from the morning cold, a hip server swaying to rock music greeted me and pointed to a sunny window seat.

A half-hour later, after tasty eggs and orange juice, another friendly server checked in. As she turned to go, I caught a glimpse of an intricate swirling design of blue and green colors on her arm.

“Wow, that’s a cool tattoo,” I said.

“It’s a peacock,” she offered, adding with a nod of confidence, “a dead peacock.”

Looking carefully, I saw this was no strutting peacock. Its head lay limp. “Hmmmm,” I wondered aloud, “Why a dead peacock?” Moving closer, she leaned on the back of the chair next to me as she opened up.

“This peacock is like men who show off their material possessions – cars and clothes and things. I don’t like that. That’s why it’s dead!” She continued, “When I see guys acting this way I say to my friends, ‘Those dudes are totally ‘peacocking.’”

She was so genuine that I felt free to ask, “If that’s what you don’t like, what do you like?”

Simple,” she replied. “I like simple. My boyfriend – he’s good looking, but it’s more what’s inside that I like. He doesn’t have a lot of things, but he has a lot of inner depth.”

“What about you?” she asked. I agreed with her – character was more attractive to me than what someone owned. I was touched that this woman knew what was important to her, and that she wasn’t going to compromise. So sure of it, in fact, that she had engraved it on her arm! Was this a statement? Or was this a reminder to herself not to forget?

Today, a lot of people are writing and talking about not measuring our worth by outward things but looking within ourselves to find it. Could it be because our worth is truly inherent within us – the gift of our creator? We don’t earn worth, we can’t buy it, we don’t have to prove it.

How do we feel that inner worth? A friend once said to me, “If you want to feel it, live it! You’ve got it, now express it.” Little by little, I’m finding I can do it, but it takes focused intention and attention.

One way I start to live my inherent worth is by pausing, stepping back and figuring out who I truly am. Am I the labels I may have inherited or acquired…or something deeper? I’m learning from Scriptures – and am beginning to confirm by experience – that I’m created by the Divine to be wholly loving and good. If that’s the case, I can express and appreciate divine qualities in myself and others – goodness, love, warmth, caring, confidence, strength, integrity, humor, generosity.

Recently, a few examples of seeing the inherent spiritual nature of others were meaningful to me. A friend lit up with joy about her purpose in life. My sister described with enthusiasm a beautiful sunset she’d seen. A teacher showered acceptance and affection on her long-time students.

The challenge in doing this? Sometimes it feels like going against the suggesting voice of the skeptic, which often echoes those aspects of our culture that gloss over the idea of inner worth. Are there rewards? I feel better about myself and more in harmony with life. And perhaps more important, thinking less about myself and how to get what I think I need (isn’t that what a lack of self-worth does to us – makes us preoccupied with ourselves?), I’m more attuned to other people’s greatness as well as their concerns and how to contribute to their well-being. Getting my own worth straight enriches me and others.

Our conversation that morning in the café reinforced for me the importance of valuing true worth. As my new friend discovered, isn’t “inner depth,” the inner surety of worth, rather than “peacocking,” the only way that true attractiveness shines outward?

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