On things that last forever

I got a tattoo last July. It’s small, personally meaningful, and I’d planned it for years. It felt like a bit of a big adult moment. And though I have no regrets, I have found surprised. It has often provided the reminder I needed, just as I intended it to. But a lot of things that hold a great deal of meaning for me (special words in particular) end of as sort of a timestamp — a bright, poignant reminder of the moment they were really what I needed to hear.

My tattoo isn’t like that. Maybe because it’s physically part of me, maybe because it’s only one word. But I think mostly because I’ve learned to hold the meaning behind it with an open hand.

“Hope” has long been my favorite word. Clichéd maybe. I don’t really care. It’s the only word that captures strength, acceptance, resolve, compassion, and resilience in any circumstance I find myself in. It’s four letters that fortify what I believe in and offer a hand when I don’t know what to believe.

I made a playlist recently that centers on a slightly different version of hope than the one I hold, but was still strongly influenced by my feelings around the word. As I was verifying it (I listen to all playlists once through before they’re final, to ensure they flow and hold together), I realized it’s got some sad and bittersweet songs on it. Even some of the happier ones are more about longing or commitment than overt happiness. I wondered if other people would also feel that those songs belonged on the playlist, and was a little surprised at how firmly I felt they did.

My idea of hope used to be more sunshine-and-butterflies optimism. Life, over time, has made me rely on a more complex understanding. If I was still clinging to a simpler definition or understanding, I would have lost more than missing out on the depth of meaning that I now find in the word. It’s also likely that circumstances that pushed the limits of what that narrower idea of hope covers might have made me feel like hope wasn’t enough, or wasn’t worth it.

But I’ve learned not to clutch my idea of it too tightly. Holding onto it steadily, but more gently, has allowed my understanding to grow, and has allowed me to grow and learn as well. Life isn’t simple, nor will it ever be — so it doesn’t make sense that the ideas we hold most dear should be terribly simple either. Simply beautiful, or simply awe-inspiring, perhaps. But simple doesn’t describe any of our universe very accurately, which means the best way for us to live and collaborate within that universe is to meet it where it’s at: complexity.

We can be both steady and ever-changing. We can be full of sadness and still embrace joy. We can offer grace and be just. We can be honest with our fears and still brave. We can disagree and still love. We can fail and not give up. We can not know and be confident. We can live in the tension. We can hope, whatever that looks like.

What’s a word or quote that has grown in meaning for you? Let me know in a comment below, on Twitter @ohgrowup, or Instagram @oh.grow.up! Thanks for reading, and good luck adulting!

P.S. I am still locked out of my Instagram account (@ support, where u at), but I promise all the recent posts will get updated on there once I’m back in!

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