When I was a boy, a long time ago now, tattoos were for sailors and bikers. These days it seems like every second person is sporting some body art. Some is tasteful, some amusing, some cultural and then there is the career ending type on your neck or face (don't do it kids - seriously).
I remember vividly as a kid being shown pictures of what happened when tattoos had to be removed - back in those days it was belt sanders and skin grafts pretty much. Not nice.
I was tattooed in 2011 - it's the Ironman logo and it's on my ankle for all to see. I'm damned proud of being an Ironman and getting the ink done for me was part of the whole experience. It hurt a lot more than I really care to remember - certainly more than the 13.5 hrs that the race took me.
I was looking through my Ironman photos and there are a couple that really got me thinking. Before I raced I got out the permanent marker and wrote in big black letters on both forearms. On one side I wrote "AZA" for Alison, Zoë and Angus. They weren't with me in Western Australia for the race but their love and support had got me that far and I had a feeling I'd need it that day as well. On the other side I wrote "GJI". Those are the initials of one of my best friends who had died in January 2010. In December it was still a raw wound and in 2012 it still is. I felt that I wanted Glenn with me as well - we'd talked about this race a fair bit. The Ironman and the achievement of finishing is history now but the pictures resonated today.
I have a couple of friends who are very ill at the moment. For both of them the prognosis isn't fantastic. One is stuck in a hospital where he has to be in a sterile environment, the other is fortunate enough to be able to be at home with his family.
The problem is that as a friend there's nothing much I can do to help these guys and I feel useless. Sure, I can talk to them, email them and channel every positive vibe I can muster their way but it just doesn't seem enough.
I could wallow in self-pity but that isn't helping anyone - and it's them that are sick rather than me. I'm healthy, my family loves me and I have a good job. So, what to do?
Well, there are a couple of things that define who I am. I'm a husband, not always a great one but I think a lot better than I was a few years ago. I'm a father as well. Again, I'm not perfect but there isn't a moment that I don't love my kids and want the best for them. I'm a son as well and I've done some pretty bad stuff to both my parents. Luckily these are things that we've worked through. And I'm a brother and an uncle. Probably not as close as I'd like to be but the tyranny of distance is a killer. There are two other things that I think also define me as a person - music and sport. The balance isn't always right between these and the previous things I mentioned but they feature greatly in my life.
When Glenn died I tried to put how I felt to music. But I'd get ideas down and then find them to be too close to other songs or just really naff. In the past I've written what I consider to be some good songs but almost two years after his death it's something I can't get to click.
My chosen sports are triathlon and mountain biking. I like the feeling of being fit and healthy and the social aspect as well. I'm not blessed with any particularly amazing natural ability and I have to work hard to be at all competitive. But the journey is what's important to me. It's mental as well as physical.
I've got my last race of the season this Sunday. It's the Canberra Half-Marathon (21km run). I'll be racing with more permanent marker initials drawn on my arms. It isn't much but for me it's a tribute to those that I am thinking of. I'm not running for them, I'm running for me - but I do want them along for the journey in one way or another.
Tattoos tell stories for most people that have them - mine certainly does. I'm not at all interested in going back for more ink at the moment but if a few words in black marker on my arm help me deal with pain, anguish and a feeling of helplessness then that'll work for me.
Thanks for reading this,