My new tattoo is about a week old on my skin, and about four years old in my head.
Some time during my freshman year of college, i think around spring break, my mom and i had a conversation about boys. I don't remember anything about this conversation except that it concluded with her saying, "Don't ever settle."
At that time, i was thinking about getting a tattoo, but couldn't decide what i wanted. I would draw doodles (usually birds) or write slogans on my skin with Sharpies (usually on my arms, because they were easiest), trying out colors and sizes and designs, but nothing seemed quite right. I tried a few variations of "never settle", but somehow it didn't quite fit. I eventually settled on the swallow tattoo that was the subject of my last post, and moved on.
I wasn't planning to get another tattoo. I still had some ideas that i liked, but nothing that seemed quite as right as the swallow.
I kept on thinking about the idea of settling, though. I thought about what it meant to settle, and what kinds of situations i had settled in before. I thought about settling romantically, academically, professionally, and spiritually.
I thought about boys i had dated and why, and determined that i would not settle for anything other than what i wanted or deserved ever again. And then i settled. Twice in a row.
I thought about classes and assignments where i should have done better but instead chose to slack off, and determined that i would never again settle for less than what i was capable of. And then i slacked off. In too many classes to mention.
I thought about the job i really wanted and what i would have to do to get it, and determined that i would let nothing get in my way. And then -- well, you can probably guess where this is going.
I spent the first three years of college settling in pretty much every area of my life. I looked for "good enough", instead of holding out for "best". Understand, i'm not trying to disparage the people in my life or the experiences i had or the places i worked. I'm just saying that anything that isn't what you really want is settling, even if it is objectively "better" than your heart's desire. A job that pays a million dollars an hour is settling, if what you really want to do is teach public school. Marrying the world's most perfect man is settling, if you're not really in love with him. Maintaining a perfect 4.0 GPA through college is settling, if you're not passionate about your studies and don't feel that you're getting a full and well-rounded experience.
All of this reflection and determination and settling culminated in the relationship with Casey, where i hung on for over a year because i thought that this was the best thing i could expect. My friend "Ben" argued with me, saying, "Right now, you think you're eating steak. But actually, it's cat food. And you think it's delicious, because you've never had steak before. But one day, you'll have real steak, and you'll be like, 'Why was I eating this shit for so long?'" Eventually, finally, i ended things with Casey, and promptly made the catastrophically bad decision to give my virginity to Theo. More settling. Like i mentioned in the earlier post, i had not had the sex that God wanted for me. I had settled for something less.
My best friend "Sue" and i actually made similar bad decisions on the same night, and talked about it quite a lot over the next few weeks. Although the decisions themselves were similar, the histories leading up to those decisions were very different. However, we were both settling. Sue, knowing nothing of the phrase from my mom that was still bouncing around in the back of my head, said to me, "Let's make a pact. You and i have spent the last three years settling for less than what we want and deserve. Let's make this year different. I think our slogan for 2010-2011 should be 'never settle'."
Of course, i agreed.
A few weeks later, i was reading some cheap celebrity magazine. I don't remember which one, but probably US Weekly. Don't judge. They had a section on tattoo placement, and explained that a rib cage tattoo is extremely painful and extremely significant. Part of the significance comes from the pain; if it is really worth getting, it's worth suffering for. Additionally, because the ribs protect your heart and lungs, a tattoo there is basically sheilding the center of your life force. Every heartbeat and every breath will reinforce the message inked forever on your skin. Plus, it's kind of an intimate area, so if someone is going to be seeing or touching it, it's going to be someone who is very important and special to you. I remember curling my arm instinctively around myself, just below my breasts, and inadvertently flashing back to the last person who had touched me intimately (Theo). I resolved again that the next person to touch me there would not be someone i was settling for.
And another week after that, i was sitting in chapel. I don't remember what the message was, only that it was really speaking to me in a lot of ways. I think it was something about being all that you can be. At one point, what the speaker said was so poignant and appropriate to the moment that Sue texted me (yes, we text in chapel) and said, "Never settle!"
At that moment, i felt God sit next to me and whisper, "That's going to be your next tattoo."
I whispered back, "God, i'm not getting another tattoo. Remember? I only ever wanted this one."
And He looked at me and whispered, "Really? You're going to argue with ME? This is going to be your next tattoo."
And i whispered, "Yeah, but . . . Oh. Yeah. Okay."
It took a few months until i had the ready cash for it, but now i have this tattoo forever. The text was not a font that the guy had. It is my own handwriting. I liked the idea of inscribing those words on my flesh with my own hand (even though technically someone else did the actual inscribing).
This image, these words, this idea, i've been carrying with me for a long time. And now i will carry them with me forever.