The Universe is Phoebe’s Tattoo


There’s an episode of Friends where Rachel convinces Phoebe to get a tattoo with her.  go Rachel has a small heart inked on her hip. Phoebe chickens out. The blue speck of ink on her shoulder is as far as she got before bolting. Rachel is pissed; they had a pact.

“They use needles!” she whines to Rachel. “Did you know they use needles?”

“No. Really? I thought they were licked on by kittens!” says Rachel.

Everyone that I know who has at least one tattoo, which typically leads to more than one tattoo, accepts that to get the image, the art, the rendering of the bow scene from Titanic across their shin, they have to suffer through a bit of pain. The Universe works the same way. It would be most neighborly if our hardest lessons, our biggest opportunities for growth and evolution were delivered with a sigh, with a soothing scalp massage after a calming tub soak and not the way we most often experience them: with stabbing shards of pain.

Over a year ago I had a falling out with a friend. It wasn’t so much mutual detonation as it was my decision alone to turn the key and destruct the friendship. I did it in a way that was a bitter drink of spitefulness, immaturity, and melodrama. That’s a piquant concoction I hadn’t sampled since junior high. Good to know it does not age well. What resulted were a series of parrys and retreats where I clumsily at first and then slightly less so, tried to make amends, tried to repair and patch and move forward.

I’m not a villain and don’t relish feeling like one. Mistakes were made on both sides. The 140-character version is we all do dumb shit and deserve a chance to make things right. I have tried. Mostly this has been met with radio silence. You can yell into the void, but after a while, you’re only going to shout yourself hoarse and feel a lot like Tom Hanks in Castaway chattering at his Wilson, his reliable, inanimate volleyball buddy.  It was a lot like what happens whenever I drop a penny or a pen cap and it rolls so far underneath the couch that I would have to move the entire piece of furniture to retrieve it. “It lives there now,” I say, meaning there’s really nothing more to be done, is there?

Narrator: There was something more to be done.

Recently a friend of mine, who knows both of us, and I were rehashing the old, tired unresolved drama. He’s the kind of person who lives his life from a place of compassion and understanding; he’s infinitely curious about people and the world and even more accepting of both. He’s fantastic and also the worst because not only is he rarely wrong, but he has the integrity to back it up. His fresh take on the whole ordeal was that her unwillingness to bend was a gift. I hold the cards to put it all to rest. All I have to do is accept that there might never be an explanation to satisfy us both and to stop waiting around for some kind of accountability that she might not have to give even though she might want to.

“You have the opportunity to give someone compassion, which is really powerful,” he said. I could hear the casual shrug in his voice on the phone. Like I said, he’s horrible. He discards these bits of Zen wisdom the way monkeys toss mango skins out of the trees.  What a jerk because, of course, he’s right.

The words weren’t long out of his mouth and I could already feel the sharp stick of pain, the hot press of the needle against my skin. I could let go of whatever it is I still hold onto of this situation that keeps my heart shuttered and keeps me shackled to petty anger. I could accept the expiration date on the expression of remorse. I could decide that it’s more important to broker equanimity than it is to pursue retribution. Justice is a cool consolation prize when it’s offered, but forgiveness is the winning lottery ticket.

I could do all of these things that are, in total, extremely inconvenient; they really put a dent in my grudge-holding capabilities worthy of at least a silver Olympic medal. When I felt the constricting pressure of what it will take me to do them, a corset being pulled tighter around my heart, I knew I not only could do them, but needed to do them.

It’s growth and healing and an opportunity to be a little bit better than I was the day before that’s on the table. I can’t pass that up, not if I’m being serious about wanting to reach beyond my tidy boundaries to live a life that’s more expansive and grounded and open-hearted. And I do want that life or at least know I went all in trying to have it. I can’t ditch the tattoo parlor. I have to submit to the pain if I want to wear the beauty on my skin.




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