St Anthony of the Desert

Orthodox Christian Mission

Las Cruces, New Mexico

Fr Gabriel

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People keep asking about that tattoo

I had a bicycle accident six years ago on the Lehigh River path when a root sprang up suddenly out of the ground, a root that had never been there before!  Over the handlebars I went, lots of blood, broken nose, four front teeth gone.  But the bike was OK! (Cyclists will recognize that line.)

Everything healed within a few weeks except this: in the emergency room they had tried hard to use little wire brushes to get all the dirt out of my face.  They had success everywhere except on my forehead; there recalcitrant dirt would not yield to any cleansing.  So, if you look at the picture of Pani-matka Suze and I on the front page, you may notice the faint line that creases my forehead.

I have long been accustomed to this suffered indignity, but it keeps coming up in conversation!  This past week I sat with students and our faculty advisor for OCF at a table in the student union of New Mexico State University.  It was the annual show-and-tell session for student organizations.  Two people who were in conversation with me walked away, then came back fifteen minutes later.  One spoke:  “By the way, what is the religious significance of that tattoo on your forehead?”

I find it intriguing that, because I am Orthodox and the Orthodox Church is almost unknown in New Mexico and much of the Southwest outside the big cities – and even there it might draw a blank stare from most of the people – people impute a religious meaning to my “tattoo.”  I considered putting a yellow arrow, the kind that has adhesive on it, and writing on it “This is not a tattoo,” but that would only draw more attention to it.  Sometimes I contemplate attributing an exotic meaning to it, but I know people would think I was a smart aleck if I did.  So I forget about it…until someone brings it up again, which happens frequently.

Because Orthodoxy is so foreign to the area’s consciousness, people think there must be meaning to my accident’s remains.  It goes along with asking, “So you’re Jewish, then?” or “Can you tell me in a few words what’s the difference between Orthodoxy and (fill in the blank)?” or “Are you Christian?”

I’ve come to embrace the “tattoo;” it’s a talking point.  It gives me an opportunity for dialogue, if people are not too timid to ask.  Sometimes when addressing a crowd of people in a formal setting to which I’ve been asked to speak, I will remember to say up front, “Oh yes, this is not a tattoo,” and point to my forehead

They told me at the hospital years ago that I could probably have it removed with laser treatment, as do people who want to get rid of unwanted real tattoos.  But I won’t bother with that.  We can all learn to live with it.


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