Tuesday, March 20, 2012

What’s That Chinese Symbol?

Once the warmer weather hits, another side of my wardrobe rears its head.  It’s not ugly; if anything, it’s a beautiful, colorful angle that I introduce to the world.  Staying entirely appropriate, a long pant transforms into a Capri and a dreary skirt gets made over into it’s uplifting, light cousin.  The blouses thin out and the sleeves retract.  Naturally, my blinding white skin reflects light until I ‘come up to color’.  Shorter bottoms expose my legs and show off a golf ball sized tattoo on my right ankle.  Twice this week already I was asked about ‘the Chinese symbol’ on my ankle.  It’s become habit to lower my head, almost in disappointment, and try to explain the ink on my leg. 

I attended a private liberal arts college in the mid-nineties with all intentions of pursuing my career in music.  Ahem, then it was a career in English.  I dreamed of writing/working for some prestigious company in New York City.  I could have argued until the cows came home as to why it was ridiculous for me, an English major, to take such required classes as science or psychology.  I wanted to spend more time focusing on African American Literature and Women’s Poetry, but I was forced to pick some ‘elective’ classes.  For some reason I took my fair share of philosophy, regardless of my strong dislike for the professor.  I also started to lean towards the religious studies.  Only one prof taught the medley of religion classes, but hearing good things about him I signed up for my first Eastern religion class.

And there he was – Dr. Kaelber (there it is…in print).  Dr. K was an older man – well, ‘older’ in the definition of a 20 year old college student.  He had just past-shoulder length hair that he neatly pulled back to the nape of his neck and he kept his distinguished (read: grey) beard neatly trimmed.  This ‘Frontier Man’ look was polished off by a black or grey tee shirt tucked into a pair of dark jeans, capped off with a shiny belt buckle and a tattered pair of cowboy boots.  I’m not sure if it was the ‘older man’ image that filled his classroom with overly flirtatious women or the actual material.  He paced across the room while he lectured, never referring to notes, which mesmerized me like focusing on a metronome for three hours.  I couldn’t tell you then what he talked about the first day, but the honeymoon was over.    

Women, no matter how devoted, started dropping the class like a hot potato.  Kaelber didn’t screw around.  The man gave us all the materials and information necessary, but most people couldn’t focus.  We failed quiz after quiz.  I stuck it out for the long haul, but to no one’s surprise I bombed the class pretty good.  I’m sure he didn’t remember me, after all, he failed hundreds of people throughout his career.  I, however, couldn’t take this level of rejection; I needed to prove myself.  (Oh, good God).  So, I signed up for the same class.  I worked my butt off by taking hand-cramping notes, reading book after book and actually listening to what Kaelber had to say, not just spending the class time examining his gait in those tight jeans and cowboy boots. 

I thoroughly enjoyed the class, but became obsessed with learning more about the Eastern religious.  We dove into the details of Hinduism and Buddhism.  A familiar symbol was plastered all through some of the texts and scriptures we studied.  The symbol I focused on was primarily seen in Hinduism, but variations of the symbol (based on translations) and definitions varied very little.  I wanted to be everything this symbol stood for – I wanted to embrace all that existed and stay true to my roots (read: ‘roots’ is a becoming a cliché word, but the journey continues).  I wanted to believe in the potential of everyone and everything.  This was my lifelong goal.  I chose to have it tattooed on my body as a constant reminder. 

So, the tattoo of the ‘OM’ symbol isn’t Chinese.  It’s really a Hindu symbol for the actual sound that’s present in Sanskrit writings.  Officially, Sanskrit isn’t a spoken language anymore, but it is the vehicle for religious writings.  I am NOT Hindu and the ink isn’t a tag to profess my love for yoga.  This is my daily reminder; sometimes I just need to pay more attention to the mark on my leg and not get distracted by cowboy boots.photo (4)