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"I was surprised we were still alive"

 "I was surprised we were still alive"  "I was surprised we were still alive"

Photographer:Fotograaf: Loraine Bodewes

UM Ink

Johan Strijckers (48), project leader of programmes and new media at the Maastricht city council, got his first tattoo in 2001. Today, they cover a big part of his chest, back and both his arms. His right forearm, both top and bottom, is filled with the image of a broken hourglass, the Death card of the Tarot deck pierced by a dagger, a pair of wings and the text ‘Time is an illusion’.

“In June 2011 I had a serious car accident. I was on an Autobahn in Germany, heading to Switzerland to check out a potential film location for my production company, when we were hit from behind by a car going at 240 km per hour. Our car, a big pick-up truck (Mitsubishi L200), hit the crash barrier and flipped seven times. Everything flies around your head: CDs, your sunglasses, pieces of windshield, everything you have in the car. We came to a stop three hundred metres away. I was surprised we were still alive, because I knew we were rolling towards the pillar of a bridge. Miraculously, I had only a bruised back, shoulder and neck and a scrape on my arm; my passenger had a broken collarbone. A police officer was on the scene very quickly and said, ‘This should have been it for you, from now on everything is extra time’. That big, strong car was our saviour: since then I only drive pick-ups.

After the accident I made a few big life choices: I finalised my divorce, which was still in doubt at the time, I left my company to have more time for my kids, I started a new relationship, I went motorbike riding more often and I got more tattoos. Some people find it strange that after an accident like that I’d want to ride a motorcycle. But to me it’s the essence of life; the ultimate sense of freedom. On the bike you feel and smell everything: the wind, smells from a kitchen you pass or freshly cut grass.

The first tattoo I got after the accident is on my right forearm. The text ‘Time is an illusion’ is very important to me. It means that everything is relative: don’t take anything for granted so hug your loved ones before you leave, because it could well be the last time. The hourglass symbolises life: the beginning of life at the top, and death at the bottom. The sand in the hourglass is the time you have in life. At the bottom, where death is, it’s broken and some sand has escaped; that’s the extra time I’ve been given. There’s a knife through the tarot card, the Death card, because I cheated death and am still here. The wings symbolise the freedom I have to start over.

When a filmmaker does their job well, car accidents sound exactly like it sounded with my. That sound gives me an adrenaline shock, but other than that I’m not traumatised by it. I have developed a certain alertness in traffic though; just as someone who’s been burnt gives the stove a wide berth.”

In this series, employees and students are interviewed about their tattoo. Mayor of Maastricht, Annemarie Penn-Te Strake, is guest editor in chief in the week of 5 March, so we interviewed a municipality employee. 

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