It is not the end of the physical body that should worry us. Rather, our concern must be to live while we’re alive – to release our inner selves from the spiritual death that comes with living behind a facade designed to conform to external definitions of who and what we are. –Elizabeth Kubler-Ross
Never would I have thought a puncture wound in my nostril could make me feel so good or inspire further life reflection. It all started during summer. My daughter decided to pierce her nose after a long process of considering the pros and cons of a facial piercing, including how it might affect her job; what meaning it had for her; and whether she might lose interest in it or not. She also factored in an upcoming surgery to remove an ovarian cyst—an office nurse advised the piercing itself isn’t a problem, but the jewelry would need to be removed prior should the “worst case scenario” of resuscitation become necessary. What with this new concern and its accompanying horrifying images of my daughter in distress in an operating room filling my mind, the worries I’d had about a nose infection making me hesitant to agree with the piercing were no longer so terribly looming. If you’re going to be responsible and care for it, I told her, you have my blessing.
The decision to pierce finalized, we journeyed one summer night to a reputable (always research the safety of the establishment that will be responsible for inserting sharp objects into any area of your body) tattoo and piercing shop, my daughter’s stepsister from her father’s relationship along for moral support. The woman who walked us to the room and arranged the necessary tools for the piercing ritual to commence was professional and precise, and I admired the way my daughter not only didn’t blink, but continued to sit with her elegant posture and a smile while a three inch needle popped through and then dangled briefly from her nose. The jewelry inserted, a quick dab with a napkin to remove a small droplet of blood, and we were on our way back out the door. The tiny diamond looked lovely.
My daughter had asked me to pierce my nose with her as a symbol of our bond; it would be a shared physical trait, like our body types and smiles. I’ll think about it, I had said. Nose piercings are a form of fashion/cultural/artistic expression I have long appreciated. Dainty, ornamental, and not too dissimilar to a freckle or a mole, they appear feminine and inoffensive twinkling from the face. In many belief systems throughout Indian culture, both Hindu and non-Hindu, the nose piercing is a common symbol related to marriage, in reference to the goddess of marriage, Parvati. It is worn to show a young woman is ready for marriage or worn to show a woman is married. The piercing is also considered health-related in various regions of India: piercing the nostril on a specific area is thought to alleviate pain during menstruation and childbirth according to traditions of Ayurvedic medicine. The pierced nose continues to be seen as a mark of beauty in Indian, Nepali, and African regions. Nose piercing was also widely practiced throughout Aborigine Australian, Mayan, Aztec, and New Guinea tribes, a symbol of beauty, social status and, in the males with pierced nostrils or septums, virility.
As humans, we’re into symbols. We are interested in explaining and understanding ourselves and our world in as many ways as possible, and symbols become a way to do this while offering the added advantage of unifying ourselves with others.
Although I like the nose piercing fundamentally for its artistic flair, I also began to think of it as a personal symbol. As someone who has a fair amount of anxiety related to health, due to anxiety related to the fairly common human fear of mortality, and an increasing avoidance of anything that might cause pain or illness, I decided facing the needle was a way to open myself up to a selected experience of pain to work through—a small situation of allowing a painful moment and then attending to the healing process afterwards. It also turned into a symbol of growth through taking on new situations in life. Almost forty-years-old and aware of how many people greet this middle age phase with hesitancy and even depression, I made a decision on my recent thirty-ninth birthday that each birthday should be acknowledged with a plan for trying something new, no matter how small or complex that something is. When forty is here, so long as I am fortunate enough to see it, I want to see it as arriving at a transformative place in life where I’m a little older and have opportunity to turn this newest phase into whatever important adventure I want it to be.
Instead of dwelling on the aging process that inevitably takes us down at some point the further we go in it, I want to gather up my years of collected experiences and wisdom, mistakes and pains, and shape a new creation out of it all.
A nose piercing has turned out to be a simple and perfect way to start. With my husband and my daughter, and her stepsister along again four months later for moral support, I sat in the same chair at the same tattoo and piercing shop as my daughter (and her stepsister, who had pierced her nose within a week of our first visit), and greeted the same woman with her familiar latex gloves and three inch needles. Ready I was to let her push one of those needles through the soft tissues of my left nostril. My daughter held out her hand for me to hold and encouragingly reminded me, “You’ve given birth before!” True, but the medical staff had to sedate me during the birthing process when I started panicking due to the labor slowing down and a nurse informing me that I might need C-section. “I just want to go home, okay?” I had replied, while trying to sit up and leave the hospital bed. It wasn’t the pain I was reacting against, but the fear of the unknown. Pain I can deal with; uncertainty, I’m sometimes sensitive to that.
“You can close your eyes,” my piercing mistress said. “Close your eyes, Mom,” my daughter ordered, her usual big, free, life-loving (and somewhat roguish) smile on her face. I closed my eyes. The needle went through. It felt the way one would imagine a needle going in one side and out the other of a bodily region might: it hurt. My eyes watered and the delicate metal settling into my flesh felt as unnatural as it is. It also felt good. With my eyes open, I smiled. I felt an encouraging sense of accomplishment and was pleased that I hadn’t walked away from this experience. The strange excitement for seeing me pierced that my daughter and her stepsister had, along with the funny look of curiosity mixed with a mild alarm from my husband as the needle was poised made the experience all the more worthwhile.
Each day I clean the diamond three times with antibacterial soap, as instructed. I check for signs of infection. So far, it’s healing well. My anxiety attacks from observing the minor and expected redness have diminished along with the redness of newly punctured skin. Not only do I like how the jewelry sparkles and satisfies my tastes for artistry, I also smile to think of having tried something new that has some meaning in my life, in my personal collection of symbols and knowledge. By the time I’m forty, such a short time from now, I plan to welcome in the new phase of aging by putting to use my years of meditation and yoga practice with a teaching certificate for meditation instruction. I will also be midway through a clinical counseling degree for licensure; moving closer to a new way to connect with and support the healing of others, and learn about healing and living from others in the process. I hope to have gone back to the Capoeira classes I started four years ago but left for other obligations in my days. Maybe I’ll be close to giving birth again, for only the second time in my life—both a fear and a dream of mine. I plan, also, to blow out forty candles and make an oath to not let age and aging be the determining factors of how I feel physically or emotionally.
I feel no different saying I’m thirty-nine than I did ten years ago saying I was twenty-nine. Back then I didn’t believe that aging means depression and losing the ability to conquer new things; why start now?