Recently, I’ve noticed how hot the topic of tattoos have been amongst my friends and their families, and even within my own. So many times, I’ve heard friends say that their parents don’t agree with their decision to permanently ink their skin. That it would prevent them from being hired in the future, it doesn’t look “classy” or whatever the reason may be. Every time this comes up in conversation, I can’t help but get a little bit worked up — why should the way someone expresses themselves alter their respectability or worth?

Growing up, I can admit that I was judgemental of tattoos. I wondered what could be so meaningful that it is worth having it permanently inked into your skin. I saw common quotes, hearts, stars and other shapes and wondered how someone could deeply identify with random drawings or words. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I had a revelation and got my first tattoo, in honor of a memory that I wanted to relive every day.

After I got my tattoo, my judgement for others that have them instantly disappeared. I realized that another person’s understanding of your ink is meaningless. The fact of the matter is that if it has meaning to you [even if that meaning is something as simple as the fact that it makes you smile], then that’s all that matters. I’m now realizing how it is important to appreciate the art that you may not understand. When you look at my tattoo, you’ll see an ordinary airplane and a standard, inspirational quote — but it’s so much more than that.

My grandpa has always been someone I’ve looked up to, and continue to look up to every day. I remember the days spent outside, listening to him name off all of the different birds, and frantically trying to memorize the names just so I could be like him. He knew so much that I wanted to know, and did so many things I wanted to do. He was a pilot, amongst several other careers and endeavors, and most importantly, he was inspiring.

The inspiration for my tattoo came to me when I was almost asleep. As soon as the words came into my head, I was wide awake and coordinating the day that I could go to a shop.

One day, my grandpa took my older brother, Tyler, and I to fly in his plane. I remember walking up to see a big, red plane on a long runway. Teddy-bear gripped tightly in my little fingers, and brown pigtails flopping on either side of my head, I knew I was about to go on an adventure. I would finally get the chance to touch a cloud — maybe even take one home. That’s what I thought, at least.

I don’t remember much else before take-off, but I’ll never forget cruising through the cotton-candy like clouds for the first time and being so captivated by the concept. Naive, I told my grandpa that I would love to take a cloud home, and instead of assuring me that it would just be a gust of water vapor, he told me that I could certainly bring one with me, if it’s what I wanted, but it may not be what I expected. We flew straight into a cloud, and he opened the vents in the plane. Much to my surprise [but hopefully not yours], it was just clear, normal air.

My grandpa went out of his way to give me something intangible and valueless, but his willingness to advocate for having nearly impossible goals was priceless. I never imagined that a cloud could become a metaphor to encourage me to chase my dreams, nor could I have fathomed a spontaneous adventure would turn into one of my most valued memories.

When you look at my tattoo, yes, you’ll see an ordinary plane with a quote, and most would never guess the inspiration behind the words. I’m confident that I’m not the only one with a story, though, and will forever be an advocate for the body art that doesn’t easily present it’s meaning. We need more mystery, optimism and a stronger desire for the little things in life. It is forever ingrained in my mind to “catch the clouds,” because I know that’s what my grandpa would want me to do — a tattoo is the perfect reminder.

More and more, I’m seeing people my age on social media advocating for the freedom to express yourself, whether that be through hair dye, fashion statements or tattoos. I can’t help but think that maybe we will be the generation to change this stigma. Do you have a tattoo that has special meaning to you? Share with us on Instagram!

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