I got a tattoo 2 days after I turned 18, my freshman year of college. This wasn’t a spontaneous Friday night activity during a trip to New Haven. I’d been planning it for a long time. My parents came to take me out to dinner on my actual birthday, and I showed them the sketch so they’d be prepared when I came home for Winter break. I’m not sure that they were happy, but I was 18 now after all.
I went with my best friend, who had come to visit for my birthday, and sat anxiously waiting for the tattoo artist to come talk to me about what, exactly, I wanted, where I wanted it, etc.
I knew I wanted a heart. My mother always told me when I was born, there were hearts everywhere. She saw them in everything. I even had a heart-shaped birth mark on my arm! It’s since faded, but I can still make it out if I look closely enough.
I knew I wanted whatever words I chose to be in Italian. First, as a nod to part of my heritage. Second, because words in Italian just look so much more beautiful.
I knew where I wanted it. Well, kind of. Originally, I wanted it on my back right over my SDR scar because I have such strong dislike for that scar. That was until I was told my pain would probably be magnified at that site. Then I realized I also wanted to be able to see whatever ink I was permanently etching on my body. I ended up deciding on my left hip, just above my hip bone. Another scar of significance.
The words. This was, by far, the hardest decision. I played with Italian translations of words for months. I wanted words that not only fit me, not only made sense, but also fit with the tattoo. I was going to be looking at it for a lot of years.
In the end, I settled on coraggio=courage and amore=love. Courage has somewhat always been the word I live by. I may not do something well, or even succeed, but I will always do it courageously. And have the courage to try. Amore was a little more difficult of a story. I didn’t want love just because it was going to be attached to a heart. I wanted real love. Genuine love. The kind of love that starts within yourself. There was no translation for self-love, only love of oneself, and that just sounded conceited. Amore it became.
I don’t pay as much attention to my tattoo now as I used to, or as I should. This is, in part, because it’s winter and I’m always fully covered, but even in the Summer months I don’t pay it any mind. It’s also because I’ve become so used to it now. The morning after getting it done, I screamed getting in the shower when I noticed it. My roommate was hysterical. Apparently she knew that was going to my reaction. Over the years, though, I’ve become so used to not even looking at it. So, I “forget” it’s there.
A reminder. Every now and then though, like this morning, I look down and am reminded of the importance of those words and that symbol in my life. And when I look at my tattoo, I always take a moment to love who I am and what I’ve become. I take a moment to vow to live the day courageously.
So I wanted to remind each of you, too. There’s always a reason to stop and show yourself some love. Even if it’s just looking in the mirror as you pass by on your way to work or class and saying “you look beautiful today”. Love is nothing without us. And we are all cheating the meaning of life if we can show love to others, but we can’t show it to ourselves. Courage is in every one of us. In some of us, it lies in getting up in the morning to face the day. In some of us, it lies in jumping out of our comfort zones and leaving our families for months to go explore all this world has to offer. In some of us, it lies in believing in that dream so much that it is what you live and breathe, so much that you actually dream about it at night. No matter where it lies in you, it is there. And it will never leave you.
This is my challenge to you: live, and love, courageously.