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Life needs an injection of passion


THERE’s been a bit of a commotion about tattoos lately because a famous footballer has been adversely affected by them. As a doctor said, the hepatitis B virus can be transmitted through dirty needles, or hasty exposure of the vulnerable skin after treatment.

There are also longer-term concerns over the psychological damage to those who come to regret their decision to be tattooed. Perhaps Rosy has now gone off with Ben, or Spiderman doesn’t do it for them in quite the way he did when they had the large web plastered across their backs.

Unfortunately, it is highly unlikely that the National Health Service will help them remove what is now an unwanted stain on their body. Words and pictures, once much loved, can, in time, become a peculiar prison.

The trouble with tattoos is that they narrow life, when life should be spacious. It is the same as walking into a cathedral hoping to enjoy the majesty of the space, and finding yourself cordoned off into a low-ceilinged corner. Your visit to the cathedral has suddenly become a cramped affair.

And my feeling in the summer on Southend Pier, where natural skin is at something of a premium, is that people have sold themselves to some pretty narrow gods, like Rosy — or Spiderman.

Words and pictures are given to us briefly. They have no meaning in themselves. Only when something within them manages to find and interact with something inside us, do they begin to have life.

So they are a fleeting glory, engaging with our interior for a moment, but then waving goodbye, not wishing to become mere wallpaper to our lives.

Perhaps they will return, but, if they do, it will be a fresh event, for we will be different people by then, and receive them differently. The idea of deliberately returning again and again to the same word or image is as sad as people who hang around their old school gates 20 years on from graduating.

Words and pictures find us so that we might stop crying. When we have stopped crying, other words and images will come to guide us on.

Unless, of course, they are tattooed on our neck, in which case we are frozen in time — its own sort of hell — trapped in our overly serious and narrow vision.

Beautiful existence, including words and pictures, is simply to live, feel, and experience that which is. This is true worship. We need always to be surprised, and so we should join Rilke in his light-hearted and spontaneous passion for receptivity and openness. It beats getting needled all the time.

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