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Molding me: the ink that binds my family

New Yorker, Jonathan Espinal discusses how re-learning to be vulnerable with himself and his family has become his greatest strength.

The reason you cry when you cut an onion is because a reaction in the onion releases a chemical called lachrymatory factor, that irritates our eyes. When you peel an onion there are no tears, but if you chop, cut, crush or smash one… cue the waterworks. The closer you get to its core, the sensation intensifies. Currently that is the journey I’ve embarked on. The dual practice of deciding when to cut into my inner depths or peeling my layers one by one. This method of discovery has been transcending.

The road of vulnerability I am on has shown me a few strengths, and an array of weaknesses. I hold both of them with equal weight. Accepting my flaws for what they are, yet identifying my strengths as the wisdom piles.

I am Carmen’s son and Gyselle’s baby brother. Being raised by two strong female figures molded my being. When I was younger, I used to be more in touch with my emotions. I used to feel things deeply, even others sadness. I was an empath.

Family snapshot. Photo: Supplied.

That all changed at the age of 9. This is when one of the pillars of my being moved out. That moment shattered me. For the first time ever, I felt heartbreak. A pain so deep that it is still there today. I built an armor to assure myself that I would never feel that way again. Little did I know that this would cause more pain than good.

I was raised to always keep pushing. There was no time to dwell on having no one come to my music recitals or baseball games. I had to focus on the bigger picture and understand that in life one must sacrifice in order to grow and reach goals. Would I have loved to have my mother and sister present in those moments? Yes. But when your family is working twice as hard to make sure that you have the prime essentials to succeed, then your perspective changes.

The lessons I learned from my younger years made me solid on the outside, but brittle on the inside.

My mother taught me to overcome emotions and feelings by harnessing that energy on other things. I would channel those feelings into music and sport. I later noticed this is how my entire family functioned. Using distractions to not be slowed down by our emotions. “It is a waste of time,” my grandma used to tell me. Life is hard, the quicker you accept that, the faster you can adapt and progress in whatever you do.

I look at my grandmother, mother and sister as my source of inspiration. They mean everything to me.

I’m currently learning how to change the dynamic of distractions to effective healing. Healing our relationships from tough love, to heart felt love. Where emotions aren’t skimmed through like a brochure on flossing, while sitting in a dentist waiting area.

This has translated into how I treat my younger siblings. Although, I never lived with them, I always tried to teach them by example. I gave them tough love, because that’s all I knew, but when I recognized that their perspective was different, I had to self-analyze and grasp the notion that tough love isn’t always the way.

There was a seismic shift when my baby sister Dahlia was born. When I held her for the first time, I was subdued with love. At that moment she changed my mind, my heart and my soul. The responsibility I felt to protect this little angel in my arms washed over me. I then learned that I had to treat my other siblings with this love that she gave me.

Whilst being enthralled in these emotions, things started to shift. I started to feel again. In micro doses, but I felt nonetheless. This is where I began to open my arms up to love. It has taken me sometime to fully open up since then, but it is safe to say it helped me notice the significance of love and its impact.

With that love comes an array of things. Sharing not just moments but wisdom. Passing down the knowledge I’ve gained through my voyage so they won’t repeat my same mistakes. It’s a major reason why I have spent years on coming up with the tattoos I have on my body. A few have been added due to having an epiphany or learning something extremely impactful along the way. Through my body art I will be sharing these lessons and stories with not just my siblings, but my next of kin and their children.

The Indigenous people, Taino and Arawak Indians, from my native land of Dominican Republic, used body art to resemble certain things. The body art told stories, lessons, symbol of power or rank within the tribe. I want to keep this tradition alive and do the same with my family. It is a part of my grass rooted culture that was long forgotten once the island was colonized. But I want to change that. That shift begins with me.

Making sure mistakes aren’t repeated and knowledge is passed on is the act of kindness that touches me most. The ability to care enough about others that you are willing to not just share, but open yourself up. Peeling back the layers that protect your heart, mind and soul so family, friends and strangers alike can grow.

Jonathan Espinal

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