On life, death, and anime-inspired tattoos

I’ve always been fascinated by tattoos.

When I was in high school, in all the rebellious phases that a goody-two-shoes can have, I thought they were a great way to stand out and do something unique. I spent close to an entire school year’s worth of science classes designing ever-more-intricate patterns on the back of my left hand with my permanent markers.

I know it drove my mom crazy, but why she bought me those markers, I will never know.

Sidebar: Did you know that super-permanent marker actually washes off of skin more easily than regular permanent marker?


Despite that fascination, I never did tattoo a tribal-pattern sun on the back of my left hand. Although it was beautiful, that design didn’t really mean much to me, and if I was going to get a tattoo, I wanted it to tell a part of my story.

About three years ago, I found a design that did.

A little backstory:

When I was six years old, my grandfather died unexpectedly. He was a strong and powerful man, but had gotten into an accident with his tractor, and the complications were too much, even for him.

At the time, I didn’t really understand anything of it. I knew more or less what had happened, and that he was in the hospital. My parents didn’t want me to see him in that state, so I didn’t go to see him.

In a way, that was a good decision. I don’t have any memories of him in the hospital; all I remember is the vibrant, rough-housing man who would tussle with us all because he had wanted farmboy sons and got four daughters and two granddaughters.

But it did leave me wondering about things—about life, about death, and about why things happen.

It wasn’t until I watched Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood that I really started to understand those questions.

One is all, and all is one

If you aren’t familiar with the series, it deals with the study of alchemy, the foundational property of which is the concept of equivalent exchange. To get one thing, you must sacrifice something of equal worth.

To teach young Ed and Al this concept, their teacher, Izumi, abandons them on an island until they can tell her what the phrase “One is all, and all is one” means.

It takes a while, and a lot of hard lessons for a pair of young boys, but eventually, Ed has the epiphany that the phrase refers more or less to the circle of life. Every life form is connected, and everything passes for a reason.

That really stuck with me.

Later on the story, when Ed and Al start meeting the homunculi, they realize that each of the sins has an identifying tattoo called an ouroboros. I’m the type of person who likes to have all the details, so I looked up what that signified—because rarely are such big plot points arbitrary.

The ouroboros is an ancient symbol dating back to ancient Egypt, and is often associated with the practice of alchemy. It represents the perpetual cycle of life and death, creation and destruction. In some cases, it’s taken to represent introspection, eternal return, and cyclicality.

That also really stuck with me.

It suddenly seemed like the answer I’d been looking for all those years ago, when I couldn’t comprehend the reason my grandfather was no longer around to give aggressive noogies. It seemed like a way I could frame everything that happened, whether it was good or bad.

Everything happens for a reason, and everything is connected.

That same year, my sister suggested that instead of doing Christmas presents for each other, we go get tattoos together.

It seemed too well-timed to be coincidental. I had just discovered a symbol that helped me contextualize some pretty big parts of my life, and that I thought would help me keep things in perspective in the future.

I didn’t want to do the exact design that was shown in FMA, because it wasn’t quite my style. But it does tell a significant part of my story, and it helps me remember that no matter what happens, there’s a reason for everything. Even if I don’t know what it is.

That’s why I have an anime-inspired tattoo.

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