A permanent ephemerality

(wrote this for a submission)

A scar is a mark on the skin or within the body tissue, where a wound has not healed completely and fibrous connective tissue has developed. There are various treatment options to lighten scars, to lessen their appearance because we don’t often get to choose where they form and how they look.

A tattoo on the other hand, is often done to memorialise a significant thing or event in one’s life, worn much like an accessory; strategically placed.

Cliché but I had a tattoo done after a break-up. It was not my first one (break-up and tattoo) but admittedly, the one of great significance (break-up and tattoo).

A concept in traditional Japanese belief, mono-no-aware which literally translates to the “bittersweet poignancy of things,” is a concept to describe the transience of human life. The cherry blossom is often picked to explain this as the flower blooms intensely, but for a very short time each year. As the flowers die, their petals fall like pink snow, and the ground is covered by a layer of soft pink; and this is where we perceive it as its most beautiful, while fully aware that this is how the cherry blossoms die. Its impermanence is therefore bittersweet,  for we are able to recognise its beauty in its passing.

It was the dream – the university boyfriend, graduating together, heading out to work and applying for that BTO. But sometimes growing up meant growing apart. And sadly for me, or for us – we kept growing further apart, not even love could save us.

So yes, I had cherry blossoms tattooed. On my right, on the ribs. It was a bundle with flowers intensely pink and flowers that faded into a mere outline. I first chose the cherry blossoms to remind me that my pain too was ephemeral or that even beautiful and delicate things will come to pass. Maybe, I wanted to convince myself that there was no point in holding on to anything for that matter.

Getting inked on your ribs is not fun by the way – but the pain of my heartbreak, the idea and having a really amazing tattoo artist helped.

Naturally, the pain faded and the gears of time continued to turn. Change and challenge, both positive and negative seemed to be the theme of the years that followed; People came and left, I saw friends through their own break-ups, losing relatives to sickness and cancer, I received opportunities at work. Had a mid life crisis. Dated around with much disappointment. It finally came to a point where I knew I was emotionally spent; I woke up one day, completely inconsolable seemingly with no particular reason at all. Had I played around too much with my own heart? Was I being too hard on myself, believing I had to be an achiever, that I had to be perfect, smart, strong, desirable all the time in all aspects of my life? Obviously this act that I had on had eaten up all that I truly was.

Throughout it all though, I was met with truly inspiring people.

While I wept, I felt myself surrender to my vulnerabilities – I started to ask myself what the point was in all that I was doing. Did being perfect (or constantly trying to live up to that) make me a better person? Is this pursuit making me happy? Did it matter if I was not strong enough?

Was it okay to tell my friends, that I needed them? – Yes.

While my tattoo served as a scar for the wound and the pain at that point in time; a reminder to never hold on too long and too much to things in this world because of their impermanence; choosing to see it in this way merely built walls in places where there should be openness. And instead of acceptance, I was running from how I was truly feeling deep inside. Instead of embracing my scars, I wanted to flaunt them as proof of victory, that I am this strong and fearless being of a girl. The more I wept, the more I felt all the built up emotions and tension leave. I reached out to my sisters and close friends, openly admitting that I needed to be around people who I knew loved me exactly for the person I am because I couldn’t do this anymore.

A friend said to me, “I don’t just want to hear from you when times are good, because I am here even at your saddest,”

I told another friend, expressing to her how fragile I was feeling. And she swept me up with a huge hug and said, “always remember that you are loved as you are, and in full,”

And this is where I felt most bittersweet; In all the emotions that was running through me, and where I was fragile and most unloveable, I was witnessing love that had always existed around me, but I was simply too caught up to see. And in bearing witness, I further observed that the perception of the beauty in life is heightened amid the wreckage of the heart and mind.

In times of sadness and loss, our family and friends surround us with love and warmth. A coffee treat from a colleague seeing you so stressed out. Or even as simple as a friendly smile from a stranger when the run of the day is written all over your face.

This very duality is too what makes life beautiful, while almost contradictory, accepting it provides a sense of peace. Mono-no-aware – we mourn the impermanence and loss, but recognise the beauty amidst this. And to observe and to understand these contrasting ends, we are left with the acceptance and appreciation of all that we have in the current time.

As I was healing emotionally, the cherry blossoms on my ribs were yet again becoming another scar. A reminder of the beauty in demise. A mark of the beauty in life’s dualities, the ephemerality of things, forever etched on the skin.



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