On a gorgeously sunny afternoon, where lazy summer vibes draw students out of the library and onto the patio between EW Fairchild-Martindale Library and Maginnes Hall, two of Kirstin Rooks’ three tattoos are visible.
Scooping up an iced coffee with her right hand, the message “free indeed” flashes across the table. A moment later, she leans forward, laughing, and Hebrew letters are revealed to scrawl across her left shoulder blade.
“It’s a good conversation starter,” says Rooks, ’15, smiling under the warmth of the sun.
All of her tattoos were inspired by Bible verses that have moved her in some way, much like the languages she chose to write them in.
While a sophomore at Lehigh in fall 2012, she got the idea for her first tattoo, which is the one on her shoulder blade, signifying her paraphrased version of John 3:16 —“I was forgiven.”
“One day, this just kind of came to me, and I knew it was something I would be proud to have on my body for the rest of my life,” she says.
Explaining her language choice, she says, “I thought it’d be more powerful to get it in Hebrew, because that’s one of the original languages of the Bible.”
Her second tattoo — three rows of Arabic letters with the meaning, “In Christ Alone”— lies on her right ribcage beneath her colorful, patterned sundress.
She decided to get this tattoo the summer before her junior year, and it represents one of her favorite hymns that she sang in her church while growing up, called “In Christ Alone.”
The beauty of the Arabic characters allured her, convincing her to translate the phrase and add another language to her body.
“But,” she says, laughing, “I did not take into account Arabic being read from front to back, so it is definitely probably upside down and backwards!”
Her most recent tattoo welcomes the world with the wave of her hand. In cursive English, it elegantly reads “free indeed” across her right wrist. As the last two words of her favorite Bible verse, John 8:36 — “So if the Son sets you free, you shall be free indeed”— she chose to get this tattoo right before her baptism in fall 2014.
Now that she has these three tattoos, she is thankful for the ones she has and equally thankful for the ones she does not.
Like many people who fantasize about getting a tattoo — myself included — she’s had some questionable past ideas.
“I wanted to get the corniest thing ever,” she comically declares about her high school dream tattoo. “I literally wanted to get across my stomach — that was the first issue, I didn’t have a clue that it was a bad idea — I wanted to get ‘Love is a Battlefield,’ like the Pat Benatar lyrics.”
Luckily, she says, by the time she was old enough to get a tattoo, she had changed her mind and recognized the spiritual aspect of tattoos for her.
“You’re putting something on your body,” she says. “For me, I am a Christian, so I believe that your body is where God dwells. I think that if you put anything on it, it’s a reflection of how you feel about that. It’s beautiful to put art on your body, but I want it to be something that reflects my beliefs and (the fact) that I have a reverence for my body.”
Her experience also verged into the realm of a tattoo version of a mystery movie, a tale that might potentially scare off anyone who’s considering getting a tattoo.
“It’s a funny story,” she says as she begins to describe what she discovered when she returned to the tattoo parlor to get her tattoo touched up after the ink faded. She asked for the artist who had done her first tattoo and was told that he no longer worked for them.
“I asked what happened, and apparently he had skipped town because they were going to fire him because they found out he had forged his entire resume,” she says.
Even worse, later — when another artist touched up her tattoo — she says he told her, “No, he did it all wrong. He had no idea what he was doing.”
“That was kind of alarming,” she says. “But at the same time, it was funny. The guy who did it the second time did a much better job.”
Despite her encounter with the fraudulent artist, she plans on getting more tattoos — including one in place of a wedding ring when she gets married, since, she confesses, she will otherwise lose it.
Getting a tattoo is a strange experience, she says, because “You’re literally seeing your body change before your eyes. You’re seeing somebody create something that’s going to be with you for the rest of your life, which is kind of trippy.”
With a knowing smile, she adds, “Just this past week, I’ve been thinking about getting another one. I can’t say what it is yet, because I haven’t totally settled on it. Just like on a whim, I think I might just go get it.”