A Tattooed Life

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I wrote this article in May of 2013. In May of 2017 I was laid off from my job after 20 years. Now it’s time for me to take my own advice.

A few weeks ago I reluctantly took a friend to the emergency room. I say reluctantly not because I didn’t care about her ailment but because I absolutely loathe doctor’s offices and emergency rooms. To me they are a cesspool of negativity and sickness neither of which I want to participate in. When we arrived there were only three people ahead of us. Looking at the positive of it I thought to myself that would mean we would not be there very long. What happened next would make that fact irrelevant.

As we sat down a gentlemen sitting in the corner across from us asked why we were there. My friend, who was in pain, told the man about her ailment. He was in his late 50’s early 60’s, a bit overweight, and had a chair in front of him with both his legs propped up on it. As soon as she answered him I had a chill come over me. I instinctively knew this guy was the reason I don’t like emergency rooms. You know the person. The one that wants to tell you everything about their life and what is wrong. I said to myself, “Shields up John here it comes”. I was right! The floodgates were open and I was about to get washed away in a tsunami of negativity.

The gentleman proceeded to tell us about his legs which were in constant pain. Trying to avoid engaging in this conversation I just said I’m sorry for that and looked away. In hindsight this was rude of me but truly there is nothing I despise more than complaining. This did not deter him though. He continued to tell us that he had been out of work for three years because of it. He said he was homeless. He slept in tents and cars. He told us of his wife leaving him after a year of not making any money. “Big surprise” I thought to myself. He then said that if it were not for his mother giving him a couple of hundred bucks a week he would never survive. I gasped and thought to myself, “Now there is proof of a mother’s unconditional love”. After some more complaining about the hospital emergency room and staff, there was a ringing. He reached into his pocket and took a call on his brand new cell phone. Aside from being appalled about this I was relieved that I no longer had to be the target of his personal drama.

Soon after his phone call had ended an elderly couple came in and sat across from us. The gentleman in the corner asked them what they were there for. My blood went cold! I wanted to scream, “No don’t tell him!”, but there was nothing I could do. The husband told him that his wife had hurt her arm and needed it looked at. I sunk into my chair and as I feared the gentleman in the corner began to tell his whole story. I began to see the elderly man’s eyes glaze over. “Guess it’s not just me” I thought. Then the gentleman said something differently. He said, “Because of my legs I can’t work”. Because of that particular use of words for some reason it lit me up. “I’m in now……All in”, I said to myself. I sat up and leaned forward. I said to the man, “You could work if you wanted to”. He looked at me in total shock. He said, “What?” I repeated myself, “You could work if you wanted to”. I said, “You do realize that there are paraplegics in this world that have jobs and earn money.” I then said, “It is true that you have an affliction with your legs but you still have use of both of them.” “Sir you have chosen not to work”.

You could now hear a pin drop in that emergency room. I know I just said what everyone else was thinking but no one believed anyone would say it. I couldn’t believe I said it either but like I said for some reason I was all in. He leaned back in his chair and rolled up his right sleeve. He showed me a tattoo of an air wrench stretching down his arm hose and all. He said “See this, I’m a mechanic. I can’t work with bad legs.”

Wow! I just realized what the main issue is that this man is facing. It is something that many people fall victim to. He was associating what he does to who he is. We all need to understand that we are not what we do. We are not managers, doctors, lawyers, instructors, or mechanics. We are much more than that. What we do is simply use the skills that we have gained in our lifetime to earn a living. This man has taken it to a new level though. He isn’t tattooed for life. He has a tattooed life. He believes so much that being a mechanic is his identity that he had it tattooed on his arm leaving no other possibilities.

I said to him, “You need to retool. You need to find something else to do”. He opened out his arms with his palms up and said, “Do you have any suggestions? This is all I know.” It’s funny I think he was hoping now that I would stop but I continued. I asked him, “Can you read?” “Yes” he said. “Can you write?” “Yes” he said again. I said “Judging from your use of that new high tech cell phone I’m willing to bet you can use a computer and talk on a phone. True?” He shook his head yes. I said to him, “Sir with those skills alone you are better off than probably thirty percent of the world.” “I noticed there is nothing on your left arm.” He glanced at it. I said, “Sir you need a new tattoo.”

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