The first time I believed with utter conviction that it was ok to be myself- completely myself – I was slurping spicy ramyun at the Filipino/Korean cafe below the tattoo shop where I got my first tattoo. The aroma of kimchi and fish sauce lingered in the humid twilight air. Cheesy elevator music blared from the SM mall up the street and snippets of Tagalog conversations ebbed and flowed from passing pedestrians. My wrist seared with pain but my heart was ablaze with triumph. I had a tattoo.
All my life I had been categorized as the “shy one.”
“She’s so quiet in class,” teachers would tell my mom, concerned at my inability to chatter away incessantly like all the other girls.
“You’re so quiet,” friends who didn’t know me well would blurt out, as if being quiet was the ultimate insult.
“Why don’t you like to talk about yourself?” people would ask. “We never know what you’re thinking.”
Why do you like to talk SO MUCH about yourself? I’d think in return.
During my time in the Philippines, I spent many quiet evenings drifting gently back and forth in my hammock, gazing at a mass of mountains upon mountains in the distance. Sometimes the rain came, pounding on the corrugated metal roofs, trickling off banana leaves, dense misty fog slipping through the valleys like a chiffon veil. And yet, the mountains stood tranquil as ever, a still, black silhouette amidst a frenzy of rain showers.
Sometimes the sunny clouds came, bright white puffs that carried with them the essence of the ocean. Calm, powerful, vast and swirling, those gentle pillowy formations stretched for miles, engulfing all but the tips of my mountains upon mountains. And yet, those peaks stood tall and defiant; not to be overshadowed, even by floating snatches of heaven.
Sometimes the sun dipped lower and lower in a lazy decent, and the sky was filled with brilliant gold and pink patterns, trumpeting loud cries of sunset glory. And yet, without the dark contrast of the familiar mountain outlines, a twilight sky was nothing but a twilight sky.
All the birds have flown up and gone;
A lonely cloud floats leisurely by.
We never tire of looking at each other
– Only the mountain and I.
~ Li Po
Those mountains became my resting place, a source of comfort for all that they represented – silence, tranquility, peace, strength. I was mesmerized by their beauty, taken by their stature and stance; I felt pride and assurance that I too was like them. I reveled in silence, I basked in peace, I drew energy from tranquility, and I emitted strength – a quiet strength, not unlike the mountains I so much admired.
It was then that I decided that quiet was ok. See how the mountains stand dignified and strong? I told myself. I am like that. My strength came from my calm and quiet nature. I liked quiet; I liked me.
I sketched out an ambiguous idea and let it slowly percolate and transform through the next few months. Arranging and rearranging, drawing and scribbling, my sketch began to materialize into what I had envisioned.
A simple outline of the mountains represented strength. Underneath, inscribed in ancient Tagalog script Alibata, was the word tahimik – Tagalog for “quiet.” Quiet Strength. That was me to the core.
Tahimik – Tagalog for “quiet”
I liked that no one could read the Alibata writing.
“I like your tattoo,” people would say, “but what does it mean?”
And then I would proudly explain my story; I would explain who I was.
It wasn’t getting a tattoo that made me someone special. Anyone can get a tattoo but it doesn’t change who you are. It was my acceptance of who I was; the pride and joy I felt at being the unique person God made me to be. No longer did I find the need to be someone that others thought I should be. I simply wanted to be the person I thought I should be.
“A Woman in harmony with her spirit is like a river flowing. She goes where she will without pretense and arrives at her destination prepared to be herself and only herself.”
~ Maya Angelou
Every day I continue to walk the path of discovery of who I am and what God is calling me to do. When I stay true to my core self and what I know to be my own strengths, I am continually surprised with how much joy and freedom comes with just being completely me.
And I like that. I like me.
a girl who dreams