In 2004 my brother lost one of his best friends and teammate to leukemia. It was a sad and tragic event in my brother’s life. One day this kid was doing great, in remission, running up and down a football field, and the next day he’s laying in a hospital bed, hollowed and writing. One of the last things he wrote was a very powerful message; he must have known he was going to die. “God smiles at us all, but it is those who smile back that he brings into His kingdom.” He wrote it moments before his peaceful death. My brother and a few other teammates decided, as a way to commemorate his loss, they would get the message tattooed on their bodies. It certainly has a meaning—to commemorate that young man’s life, celebrate it, and remind others that he was there for them, guiding them. These men, football players, will forever be permanently united in his memory. Therefore this tattoo is not just a mere ink and skin creation; rather, it’s a profound cosmic connecter; his presence is translated by the tattoo.
Most people may look at the scripted tattoo on my brother’s bulky, muscular arm and think, “Hey look at that gaudy tattoo. What a Guido. I wonder if he even knows what it means.” By just sheer glance, they will never get the full capacity for what it truly stands for. Some people may think that it’s trashy; some may think it makes no sense; some may take extreme offense to it. Nevertheless, it means something to my brother. Yes, sit there and look at my arm, but I don’t care what you think it means or whether or not you like it. It’s significance is known to me, and probably no one else, besides the other men who have it’s replica, will be able to conceive the same impact that it has had on my life.
In the introduction to Tattooing the World, what struck me right off the bat was that O’Connell had these elaborate tattoos from the Pacific yet had no idea what either of them meant. How could you get a tattoo simply for the ink? Sure, he receives a lot of attention for them, but why does he have them?
I constructed my own interpretation for why O’Connell has all of the Pacific tattoos. One, it symbolizes his travels; each tattoo is a permanent connection to the moment in which he received it. He is reminded of the tattooists, the climate, the place, the pain of the needle. Secondly, he could be purely attracted to the aesthetic look that they bring to his body; he is seen as a warrior, and he is unique from everyone else. Thirdly, it shapes his identity. “As ‘the tattooed Irishman,’ O’Connell finds in the motifs an identity, not just a job, and creates his own account of life in Pohnpei as a result of the apparent script the women have impressed upon him” (Ellis 3). In a way his life and mission is to be a canvas for an artist to display his or her work. He is a media; he is a living art form, and his life is centered on this. All the people that he meets and shows his tattoos to are affected by his tattoos in some way, even if they seem ambivalent to them; the tattoos live through him.
In relation to my brother’s tattoo, O’Connell wants and cares about people’s view of his tattoos. Every tattoo has a story, and he wants to promote that everyone experiences this story. However from what I know of my brother, he could care less about what others think of his tattoo; it’s for his mind only.