*Disclaimer: I am going to talk about bravery here, the annoying privileged American kind that is wrapped up in self-esteem and that is nothing compared to the bravery of people who live under the threat of violence, hunger, etc. every day, so excuse my indulgence please!
Years and years ago, Matthew and I started and operated a small cafe for 3 years (it is still there, go visit!) and during that time he got his first tattoo (I already had my current 5). He is not much of a tattoo person but wanted something to mark the experience of owning the cafe and there was no better tattoo for him than this one - it was taken from a handwritten love letter that had been found in a used book and then plastered to the bathroom wall of our cafe so Matthew looked at it, a lot, for 3 straight years. Its author signed off with not Love, or I love you, or Forever Yours, and anything as sweet as that. No, he signed off with: Persevere!
Do I need to tell you that owning a small cafe in a town with a population of 800 is hard? Owning a small cafe in a town with a population of 800 is hard. Very very hard, on every level and in every way you can imagine. Matthew's tattoo started a conversation among our friends and within me that I have been pondering for a very long time now: if you were to get one message, just one, tattooed on your body that has been, is currently, and probably always will be relevant to you in all your gloriously damaged specialness, what would it be?
I started out with "Ever Forward." A dear friend of mine had been signing off his letters with this phrase since he started writing them to me. I loved the movement in the sentiment, and as a person who struggles with inertia I thought it was appropriate, virtuous, and valiant. But then I thought that when I am 80 years old I might like to stop and just be still and that inertia, while ever present, is not my toughest struggle.
Then I thought about the classic sailor knuckle tattoo "Hold Fast." I've been through a lot, physically and emotionally (who hasn't?) and the grounding self-assuredness of a phrase like "Hold Fast" really appeals to me. Also, I am obsessed with the history of whaling, so anything that has to do with old boats is an easy sell. But who wants to be constantly reminded of the hardships of their life? Well, a lot of people apparently, but I'd ultimately like something more hopeful to look at every day.
I finally hit upon "Be Brave" several years ago. It's perfect for me. In fact, it's my struggle with being brave that was keeping me from even recognizing that such a simple phrase was exactly the thing I need to be reminded of, always has been and, I'm fine with admitting, probably always will be. I am not-brave all the time. It takes a significant amount of courage for me to wear clothes with colors on them, to speak my mind around friends much less around strangers, to pump my own gas (I have no idea why), to wear lipstick, to call people, anyone, on the phone, to, oh, exist. Most people think that I am very brave, so it's surprising to them when I identify as not-brave, but that's only because I consciously commit every single day to being as brave as I can be. It does not come naturally. Lying in bed avoiding everything is probably what I would do in my most natural state, or you know, on weekends.
So I thought "Be Brave" was going on my arm, and I planned it out and gathered fonts and got ready and then my dear friend Melissa told this story about her son Atticus, who I love like he's my own, and I knew that he had just one-upped me. She said that she had been at the library with him and had noticed that he was feeling shy around the other kids (I feel you Atticus) and in processing his shyness later, after the fact, he told her that the way he had dealt with it was, "I held my brave."
It combines "Hold Fast" and "Be Brave" perfectly. It treats bravery like a noun, making it a thing to nurture or let wither. It's proactive and strong but soft and vulnerable. And since he's a child at least 10 years away from getting a tattoo, I am stealing it from him.
Atticus wrote, Melissa embroidered. Did I cry? Yes, I cried.
So what would your one message be?