Having officially reached the big four-oh last week (eek!), the question I’ve been asked most is whether I’ve managed to tick off everything on The List. I’m surprised (although pleasantly so) that this question is what is most top-of-mind for the people in my world when considering my fortieth, but I am significantly encouraged by this! I am so very blessed to have had all of you join me and become so involved on this journey to live the days and months before (and around) my 40th birthday intentionally and with meaning. Thank you!! And to answer your question – No – I haven’t come close to completing The List. BUT (and it’s a big but)… my story isn’t over yet. I’ve decided to extend the time period for completing The List until the end of this year, so the journey rather becomes my “40 before the end of the year in which I turn 40”. A mouthful, I know, as well as clearly taking a bit of poetic license – but hey, I’m 40, it’s allowed!
Although there were two fairly big things that I ticked off The List before the actual big day on 23 May, I’ll confine myself to just telling you about one of them for now, which happened a week before my birthday when I found myself heading down to Parkhurst on a cold and rainy Sunday morning, for an appointment I’d booked a few weeks back. You’d be forgiven for thinking I’d booked a luxurious pedicure, facial or massage – after all, a girl turning 40 deserves to treat herself with some pampering. However, it was a far bigger treat than that – I had an appointment at Hardcore Tattoos to unveil another personal and permanent expression of myself.
I know that just the name ‘Hardcore Tattoos’ probably conjures up images of tattoo-COVERED bodies, leather, darkness, piercings and all such things that may well have been associated with tattoos in the 80s and 90s. The reality, however, is totally different. Yes, the artists themselves may have more tattoos and piercings than your regular man on the street…but they’re artists! They express themselves far more freely than the rest of us generally do (and I, for one, think we can learn a lot from such freedom and confidence). In real life, the studio is open, clean and, above all, everyone is super friendly. So even when you hesitatingly edge in there for the first time feeling like a bit of a fraud (well at least that’s how I felt the first time – after all, I’m generally a clean cut and fairly conservative girl who you ordinarily may not expect to find in a tattoo parlor) you are welcomed with genuine smiles and warmth, and made to feel immediately at ease.
A couple of things before I tell you more about my latest ink expression that I acquired that day (and which I wanted to acquire before my birthday as an item on The List): this is my fourth tattoo. When I had my first one done (in May 2012), everyone told me that tattoos are addictive and I would soon get many more. I scoffed at them – I wanted ONE tattoo, that was it! And it was my life word “believe”, which I have permanently inscribed on the inside of my left wrist. I love the script, the word, the meaning…I love everything about it and just knew that was the only tattoo I would ever want or need. (Haha). However, even at the age of 35, I was still somewhat concerned as to what my parents would think of it when I showed them. I needn’t have worried about my mom – when she saw it (and finally believed me that it was real), her spontaneous response was “I want one too!” 😊 Dad, on the other hand, was somewhat less charmed (let’s just leave it at that).
My second piece of art came a year later and was no surprise to those of you who know me well and know how passionate I am about South Africa and about being African. Africa will always be in my blood – and now I have a permanent reflection to the world of the importance of Africa to me.
I’m still not one who says tattoos are addictive, but I can attest that the beauty of a tattoo and the art of tattooing grows on you much more when you have one and, for this reason, I think you become a lot more open to the possibilities of other tattoos. I won’t go into too much detail about my third tattoo, as I have already mentioned it in one of my previous blogs – it’s Chuckles’ pawprint, which I have on my left shoulder just above my heart.
As I’ve shared previously, Chuckles lives in the centre of my heart, and this way he is always with me. And yes, it is his actual pawprint. It’s my favourite tattoo because of the depth of meaning it has for me. (I still giggle now thinking back on the time when I showed the pawprint to my dad. He looked at me, visibly trying not to grimace, and pronounced that he “did not approve”. While not intending to be disrespectful in any way, my response was “Dad, I’m 38 years old. I don’t need your approval for this. And I’m sorry you don’t like it. Just as well I didn’t get it for you, I got it for me”. This exchange highlights a couple of things for me…firstly, tattoos aren’t for everyone – I completely understand and accept that. And secondly, you get a tattoo for yourself, not for anyone else. It’s an extremely personal (and hopefully meaningful) thing. It’s the art you choose permanently for your body. Yes, it is art! And in exactly the same way that we don’t all have the same taste in painting or sculpture, so we won’t have the same taste in tattoos. But that’s okay – we don’t have to like it, but we do need to respect each other’s choice of art.
And so full circle… there I was, on that rainy Sunday morning a few weeks ago, in the capable hands of Chelsea (who did my pawprint tattoo as well – she is fabulous, funny (and loves dogs!) and I highly recommend her), trusting her to bring the vision of my next piece of ink to life. (Dad – don’t stress, it’s just a tiny semicolon!)
Prior to sharing the symbolism of the semi-colon with some of you on my birthday a week ago, I know all except a few of you would have been wondering why on earth I’d want to have a punctuation mark permanently imprinted on my body. Even if I am passionate about books and writing, surely that’s a bit much? Well this semicolon is much more than a mere punctuation mark – it is a bold statement, and a symbol of hope and possibility. You will know by now that I was very ill a few years ago, and ended up in the Sandton medi-clinic for a few weeks. And while most of you will know that I was suffering with severe depression at the time, many of you will not know that I was suicidal, feeling no hope whatsoever. I had the manner, the means and the details of my suicide planned, the only thing that remained was to fix the time for it (which I was ultimately saved from doing through being hospitalised). From being at rock bottom, seeing no hope or light, there was simply no way that I could have imagined that, four years later, I would now be at this point in my life – celebrating (yes, celebrating) my fortieth birthday, surrounded by amazing people in my world, looking back on the last few years of family, friendships and adventures, and having dreams of what may still be to come.
Yet, here I am indeed…and it’s for this reason that I have my semicolon. The semicolon has become an international symbol for those who have attempted suicide or been suicidal. Just as a semicolon is used in writing where the author could have put a full stop, but chose to rather put a semicolon and carry on with the sentence, as the author of my life I could have chosen to put a full stop in my life in 2012. However, I instead chose to use a semicolon. It’s my symbol that my story did not end there, that there’s more to come.
For me, it is best explained in the words of Lewis Thomas, who said:
“I have grown fond of semicolons in recent years. . . . It is almost always a greater pleasure to come across a semicolon than a period. The period tells you that that is that; if you didn’t get all the meaning you wanted or expected, anyway you got all the writer intended to parcel out and now you have to move along. But with a semicolon there you get a pleasant little feeling of expectancy; there is more to come; read on; it will get clearer.”
So this small but powerful tattoo, which is on my right index finger where I will see it all the time, is my constant reminder to stay strong, be expectant, things are getting clearer, there is more to come….
Postscript: although I generally talk quite openly about depression, and the difficulties I have had to face because of and through it, my heart is beating a thousand times a minute as I prepare to hit ‘publish’ on this post which reveals details of the depth of my despair in 2012 that may make some people uncomfortable. But I will nevertheless press the ‘publish’ key…and hold my breath…and hope that my vulnerability has not scared you away.