In praise of impermanence.

My henna tattoo, covered with sparkly blue glitter.

Back in August, I headed a few towns over to Cranford for an arts and food fair. I went with Z, my friend Nicole, and three of her kids.

A great mix of people milled about, perusing booths packed with handcrafted goods, sarcasm-laden tees, incense sticks, sculptures, and all kinds of knick-knacks. A Minnie Mouse and Spider-Man posed with kids (and a certain kid-sized adult with a love for the webslinger). Food trucks attracted long lines of people with a hankering for Maryland crab cakes, Puerto Rican empanadas, or bucket sized cups of lemonade (I gulped down mine; that bright summer sun had left me a bit sweaty and very thirsty.

After purchasing a small rectangular painting and a deep blue coated wine bottle piece by an Indian American artist, I found myself drawn to a booth set up by a henna artist. Leaned over my rollator, I watched as the artist, Ash, deftly drew fine lines with dark ink on a young woman’s pale hand. Quickly, the lines took on the detailed shape of a flower. I was transfixed.

I had only gotten a professional henna tat once (I played around with the kit at home as a teen), nearly two decades earlier at a Seaside Heights boardwalk shop. I was, interestingly enough, with my minister dad, who thought it would be hilarious to get my stepmom’s name in henna on his arm and watch her go into a Pentecostal panic at the unholy sight of such a blasphemous marking. Or something. I got a little haloed angel of my own design on my upper right arm. My stepmom did, indeed panic. Back at my mom’s house, where I lived, no one blinked twice. Even Mommy, usually gullible, didn’t believe it was real. No matter, I was still quite happy about my new temporary ink. Well, except about the whole temporary part. It lasted all of a week. Although I knew it was going to fade, I still was crestfallen after each shower.

I plopped on to the chair across from Ash after choosing a lacy design from a big book. Nicole stood nearby recording as my left hand and wrist became living canvas. I couldn’t help grinning, amazed and please. Passersby halted to watch and admire the work while I chatted with Ash’s hubby, who was the money man of the operation.

Before long, my tat, full of loops and ovals and rings, was done. I sat, staring as if I had been blessed with a brand new hand.

And I would’ve kept staring, but my reverie was broken when Helpful Hubby handed me his iPhone with a credit card reader attachment. Time to swipe and move along. I had told Z and Lai, Nicole’s daughter, they could henna tats, too, and were waiting for me to vacate the seat.


noun: impermanence; noun: impermanency
the state or fact of lasting for only a limited period of time.
“she describes the impermanence of human existence”

A couple of days later, while having plasmapheresis, I marveled at the contrast of a hospital patient bracelet and the henna. Signs of sickness and celebration, coexisting, laughed at, and then photographed for posterity. Like my life.

I began seriously contemplating getting some permanent hand ink. I asked K if he’d like it. “Sure, why not?,” he shrugged. “Um, because it would be very visible, more visible than any of my other tattoos.” I looked up to the realization that, although posed as a question, his reply was a statement. And he was rather done with the conversation.

A week later was Labor Day weekend- the unofficial end of the season. My henna was orange, fading like the summer. I felt more sad about the henna, though. Summer wraps and autumn arrives, and I like it (and its mosquito-killing temps) better anyway. Once the orange of the henna was gone, I’d have what? My regular ol’ brown hand, that’s what.

I thought about my late, great hand art this past week as the world collectively said “adios” to 2019. It zoomed past for me, with repeated visits to hospitals as my mom battled multiple infections triggered by the new chemo drugs she was taken to fight the stage 3 breast cancer she’s been fighting since 2015. There was a mastectomy two days after she turned 70. She’s been doing well since.

Then there was the entire decade that ended, too. What a time the 10s were for me. I gave birth. I lived through deaths. My health collapsed. My daughter thrived. My marriage grew. I had a stem cell transplant. It failed. I survived.

Ecclesiastes 3.

The henna is gone. I may get a permanent hand tattoo, I may not. But the happiness I felt during that last week of August as I admired it was genuine. And the fact that it’s gone makes it even more precious. Makes, not made. Its value continues, even though it hasn’t.

So long 2019 and henna hand and relaxers and new mommyhood and turning 30 and being a newlywed…

Hello 2020.

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