In September of 2016 I spoke to my friend Kelly, a Chinese linguist who had been in Military Intelligence for years, and asked him about the symbol lì. Kelly explained:
“Lì is the character for “power” or “physical force”. Lì is added to some characters to mean the type of strength. Tì is the character for “body”. So “Tì Lì” means physical strength or power. So, there is no one word for strength, but many based on the type of strength being described. It also is general enough to mean “power” in its many forms. There is also something very beautiful in the fact that such a basic two stroke character can represent so strong a concept, literally.”
On that day, I carved a mental image of it onto my wrist. Something no one would ever notice, unless it was in a, “wow, have you guys noticed Beth is kind of fixated on her arm? It’s weird, right? I mean, we were talking, and suddenly her eyes just went to that spot again. Is that a thing? Is there some kind of wrist chakra? Like you stare and it’s activated? Or maybe she’s hinting that something is on MY wrist, but is too polite. Hey, would you mind looking at my wrist? Is there something there? I’m calling my doctor. It could be malignant.”
Whenever I felt I needed to be reminded that I was strong, I’d just glance down at my wrist.
For a while now people have insisted I am “strong,” even “courageous” at times. I’m to be “admired” for these qualities. I’m never quite sure if they genuinely believe that, or if it’s more in hope that the words will prop me up enough so that I can get up and persevere a bit more. Sure, there are days I feel strong. Days I greet with a mighty roar, but there are days I want to sit in the dark coolness of my bedroom and not be bothered for minutes on end. (Well, that idea always sounds great, and about 30 minutes in, I start getting bored especially when I haven’t settled on a decent movie to watch, and my only TV choice involves a Kardashian performing a keg stand. Which by the way, why? Does beer taste better that way? Are you joining a beer circus? What is up with that?)
On Monday, July 9th, the anniversary of Jay’s death, my friend April texted and asked if I wanted to finally get a tattoo – the thing I’d been talking about for two years. Over the last two years she and several friends had heard me carry on about various tattoo parlors, and a favorite artist I’d selected. They listened as the symbol morphed from a simple character to one where it appeared as if it had been torn from my skin, to a tribal phoenix, to a water colored phoenix, to the phrase, “I am the storm,” and then back to a simple character. No wonder I couldn’t commit.
My knee-jerk reaction was, “no, nope, I’m good, thanks!” Then the more I thought about it, the more I thought, “y’know, why not today? Today on the anniversary. A day where it would have the most meaning,” and I said, “yes.”
A friend once said, “you know in your heart that you are strong, why do you need a tattoo?” (That’s paraphrased a bit, but that’s how I understood them.) And my answer is simple: I don’t always see myself the way you do. I know. I’m not unique in this belief. Don’t we all see more in our friends and family than they’re sometimes able to see? We see their raw beauty, their own simple elegance, and just how truly awe-inspiring they are with their wings outstretched, and you wish that for a minute they could understand themselves the way you understand them – see themselves the way you do. So, this tattoo serves as a tangible reminder when they’re not around that I am strong, and it’s there for the days I feel I’ve lost my way – a silent calligraphy sentinel.
As to the question, “how did you choose your wrist?” Well, its always been there. The only thing that changed is now you can see it, too.
And I can see it when I can’t.
PS Thank you to DeAnne and April who chose to also get tattoos to honor those they’ve lost, which included Jay. I cannot begin to properly express how touching I found those gestures.