Worth Having

Information is a fluid, flowing, dangerous thing. There’s a reason why the oppressed are cut off from its stream. It is because in the hands of one person, a tight-knit group, or a disorganized mass – information is powerful.

I have a tattoo on my back. It looks like this:

I decided to get it when I was thirteen. I waited until I was eighteen to actually have it done. I thought I’d always remember the date, just like I remember some of the other significant dates in my life: birthdays, the day my father died, the day I lost my virginity, the day I thought I physically wouldn’t survive heartbreak… But no. I know that I got my tattoo sometime in May of 2009, a month or so before my nineteenth birthday.

Some people think the tattoo means something about me that it doesn’t, necessarily, mean. And that’s fine. Our appearances project things, and I was always aware that my tattoo would do that to some people who were familiar with the books.

Others think that the thing is just a generic, boring, “tribal”-design rose, and that’s alright as well. Anyone who gets to know me will, most likely, ask me about it at some point.

Until very recently, I could sum up the meaning of my tattoo in the words that I found beautiful when I was thirteen and that I still do: Love as thou wilt. To me, that means a variety of things, but most of all – and most importantly – a freedom to love and be loved with equality, without judgement, without others being biased against you for no real reason except some arbitrary notion of “norms.”

Recently, I’ve come to realize that my tattoo is significant for another reason, one I hadn’t even planned on and hadn’t thought of at the time of getting it. Being in Oxford, studying intensively, being so incredibly focused on getting the most out of this year not only academically but socially as well – these things have reminded me of another of my favorite quotes from the book that inspired my tattoo:

“All knowledge is worth having.”

It is. For instance, that heartbreak, that I thought I’d never recover from? Learning to deal with it, live through it, and continue beyond it: that was knowledge worth having. My father dying, though I’d never wish it on anyone who had as wonderful a relationship with their parents as I did – being in the hospital with him, growing up faster than any fifteen-sixteen-year old should, watching him slip away into morphine dreams, when his face was thin enough that his already papery cheeks seemed like they wouldn’t stand the weight of my lips – even that. Even that was, and is, knowledge worth having.

Being at Oxford is full of experiences like this. Many have been awesome – inspiring jaw-dropping awe in the full sense of the word and requiring new species of either intellectual or emotional butterflies to stretch their wings free of their cocoons in order to flutter around my belly.

Some experiences have been terrible, like the day I needed to breathe very, very slowly in order to not burst out sobbing when I reached the Office of Student Affairs after running, all the way from the computer room, to tell them that the file they’d told me to print wasn’t online. I needed to register with the police, I was afraid of being kicked out of the country, and nobody apologized for making me run around campus when they had five computers and two printers right there in the room with them and the responsibility for getting this process done wasn’t mine alone because I couldn’t produce the information that the border-control people needed. I was very abrupt and quite rude that day and I still feel bad about it. But you know what? All knowledge is worth having.

Other experiences have been bittersweet: a blue sweater getting hailed on, an earring lost at a dance, waking up to a filthy apartment as the only evidence of a massive party the night before.

With renewed meaning and love of my tattoo, I regard Week Two of term as having ended on a good, if uneventful, note. Uneventful for me, that is. I have plenty of stories that I have heard from other people. Gossip is one of my favorite things. I don’t spread it. I acquire it. Because all knowledge is worth having.


3 thoughts on “Worth Having

  1. Ohh, I really love this post, Ilana. Thank you for sharing your tattoo and what it means to you. Intensely personal. Glad week two went well. Hope week three is even better!

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