Flying Swallows and tattooed meaning…

30 08 2011
Often Awesome Episode 7

When I was turned 21, I didn’t drink, I was an avid addicted gym nerd, and while I was getting around on a bike, it was more or less a default, not a passion.  Unlike so many of my peers who spent their 21st birthday (and the weeks leading up to it) prepping for being able to legally drink; I had no interest.  But I was interested in the physical rites of passage that seem to flow through history and culture, but seemingly got lost somewhere.  I was also quite interested in pushing my physical boundaries and I’m sure Alaska had some part in convincing me that perhaps a ritual of physical transformation was appropriate.  When I settled on getting tattooed my dad, having grown up in a strict, military, catholic household, and having survived Vietnam, was decidedly against the idea.  My mother however was mischievous and without making a big fuss or much noise about it, decided that it was the best course of action (figuring I was going to get it done with or without approval and of course was going to make sure any place I got tattooed she was going to be there), to go with me.  I think personally, she was  morbidly fascinated by the whole process and there was more curiosity there than she maybe would have admitted.

13 years later, I would get another tattoo, in memory of my mom; a year after she had passed away.

I had always told myself I never wanted to have my arms tattooed.  There were a number of reasons why, but it was something I was rather confident of.  When my mom died, I realized I had a need to wear something permanent, visible and obvious, yet requiring awareness to see.  The arm became an option – the closer to the heart the better.    I was already adorning myself in white ink and found that I liked it for its elusive quality (particularly on my freckled Irish/German flesh); so that was easy to pick.  I wanted also to celebrate my mom and to wear her teachings as a banner on my skin (as they were already written on my character and in my heart and mind), and so I decided to paint it in a language and a culture that has become part of my own path.

If you saw my early fliers for the Iron Horse Challenge, or the symbols that I began using to identify the ALSWARRIOR (you can see the blue triangle and associated images in the banner at the top of the blog), you might see a strange script (its in the image below above my mother’s picture).  The script is called alibata, and it’s a pre-Spanish writing form that hails from the Philippines and is translated through the native Tagalog language.

The script translates into Tagalog as Ina- Guro- Kaibegan: Mother, Teacher, Friend.


These three roles were part of my mother’s legacy to me and I wanted to represent them, for both the mystery that they are.  Metaphorically and literally this traits are translated in my nature and behavior and in my actions.  Getting this tattooed on my arm was a way of pointing to the obvious: it was in reverence to her and to the gifts of where her teachings have led me.

My father had a hard enough time with the tattoo.  Being a pragmatist and a practical person, he was always against me putting the alibata  on my awareness posters and advertising; suggesting that it might be more alienating than communicating.  He wanted my ALS projects to succeed.  He felt I should make the message clear and simple. 

 I agreed with him, but I also inherited a certain stubborn will and a uncompromising creative character;  I put it out there anyway. 

 Even the ALSWARRIOR crest, the blue triangle, representing the tiga footpath of the Filipino martial arts (made up of escrima sticks), the wing of the 173rd airborn holding a karambit (a traditional fishing blade and fighting knife from the Philippines), the ALS Defeat Walk foot (the logo having been changed some years back to sneakers and the name to the Walk to Defeat ALS), and the strange bike wheel turned mandala and the words “hike, bike, fight”, were all in there own ways a way of merging my own warrior symbols towards this fight; though now I use it more to self-identify when I compete in the martial arts.  The specific claiming of this symbol was my own martial way to take my ALS awareness campaign into every part of my life.

It might not makes sense to many – but it makes sense to me.

It was not long after I learned about Tim and Kaylan and the Often Awesome Army that I saw this particular episode and realized I was in love with these people.

When I saw the signs of solidarity in Tim’s friends and then the passion filling each of them to turn their flesh into an awareness campaign I was stoked.  To see the backing of the tattoo shop and the flood of the art, music, and tattoo events that followed, blew me away and the ideas of how far solidarity and awareness could go was (not only amazing to watch), it pushed the boundaries of what was possible.  It seemed so obvious and so powerful, that it was impossible for me to not be excited by the multitude of ways that people could be touched and fired up, how they could set fire to the limitations of what could be done and defy what couldn’t.

These were all things I couldn’t have imagined when my mom was fighting ALS; they weren’t even figments of dreams.  Tim and Kaylan made those dreams possible.  They inspired me to push the limits of what could turn into a voice and a battle cry.  Most importantly, they…like my parents…showed me how strong love can be and how limitless it is.

The sparrow is a good symbol of this.

IHC bottle wrap blue bird




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