The Phoenix Must Burn to Emerge


The phoenix must burn to emerge. -Janet Fitch

Most people who have known me for less than ten years are surprised to learn that I have a tattoo.  But I do.  It’s a tiger lily and I got it about ten years ago.  Truth be told, it was nothing I would ever pick out today, but I do not have any regrets about this particular piece of ink.  It was part of an exploration of myself that I was doing at the time, and it made sense to me.

I’ve heard that once you bite the bullet and get a tattoo, you get the bug for it.  For many years I didn’t think this was true.  I was perfectly happy with the tattoo I had, and happy that it surprised so many people to learn that I had it.  Getting another tattoo was the furthest thing from my mind.

And then I learned about my anxiety disorder, and it’s ability to strip me of my sanity sometimes.  I’ve talked about it here before, and it’s always existed, but in recent years it has really come to light as something that occasionally completely debilitates me.  Thankfully, massive attacks of it have become few and far between since it’s discovery four years ago, but that doesn’t mean it’s completely gone.

This anxiety forced me to reevaluate a lot of things around me, and I worked really hard to change some things, both internally and externally, until I finally felt like I had put myself in a place where I could be myself, and live life the way I wanted to.  I was no longer walking around pretending to be something I wasn’t just to keep the peace with the people around me.

Then about two years ago, after this transformation, the tattoo bug bit me again.  I wanted to find a quote to incorporate into said existing tattoo, one that represented these changes I made to my life.  For two years, I have found some close contenders but nothing that I wanted permanently etched into my skin.  Lewis Carroll’s “It’s no use going back to yesterday, for I was a different person then” got the closest and to be honest it still may make it to my skin, but not right now.  Regardless, there was something about the quote thing that was holding me back from getting it, and so I just kept waiting.

Until last Monday.

Oddly, the idea for this new tattoo came from watching Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.  One of my favorite parts of both the book and the movie is when Harry learns about Dumbledore’s pet phoenix, Fawkes.  Being the well-read individual that I am, I certainly knew the legend of the phoenix rising from it’s own ashes, but for whatever reason, watching the movie on Monday made me sit up and listen – and I remembered the Janet Fitch quote from the title of this post.

The quote has been a longtime favorite, and I thought that I had finally found what I wanted to incorporate into my tattoo.  However, knowing how quotes can be changed and altered via the internet, I decided to do some further research just to check.  So you can imagine my disappointment when I found out that it has been misquoted quite a bit.  The actual quote is “the artist is the phoenix who burns to emerge,” which is nice, but not what I wanted.  As I  didn’t want something misquoted on my body for all eternity, my quest continued… but not for long, as this quote also yielded the image I was looking for:


I found the image to the right on Pinterest during my quote research, and it all clicked into place: this is exactly what I wanted.

I knew right off the bat that this was what I wanted to do, and I didn’t hesitate, but I did do a little research into the symbolism of the phoenix, just to make sure.  And here’s what I discovered:

  • a rising phoenix is a symbol of virtue and grace, a representation of resurrection and victory
  • the body represents kindness, the wings symbolize prosperity and the head means reliability
  • associated with feminine virtues, such as grace and kindness
  • the phoenix embodies the five virtues of benevolence, righteousness, propriety, wisdom and sincerity


Everything about it just seemed perfect: representing a new version of myself and while the phoenix has no actual connection to the idea of anxiety, I feel like its very representative of what bouts with anxiety can do: break down everything and force a rising from the ashes of sorts.

And so on Sunday I bit the bullet and did it:

The funny thing?  When I got home from getting the new tattoo, I stumbled upon the quote I want:

Courage, dear heart. -C.S. Lewis

And thus it seems like I’ll soon have three tattoos.

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