A while ago, just as summer was ending, I went to an art opening at Yale University. I met a student, a young girl about 18 years old, who possessed the kind of guileless beauty that needs no embellishment. As we talked in the heat of the crowded galleries, she took off her jacket, revealing to my surprise that she was covered, neck to wrist, with tattoos. Inscribed into her body were beautiful, artful images of flowers and storybook characters — several of Maurice Sendak’s Wild Things crept along her upper arm, Ariel from the Little Mermaid swam cunningly on her forearm, the rag woman Sally in Tim Burton’s Nightmare Before Christmas peeked from behind her elbow. These characters were the ones she loved best from childhood, she said, inflecting her words as though her youth were decades past.
We continued to make small talk, and eventually drifted off into conversations with others, but the memory of her painted skin and quiet beauty stayed with me. I was overwhelmed by the feeling I had been looking at the Virgin Mary, who bore the wounds of the world as her own.