What My Tattoo Means (Amor fati)

flame-1024x972“I want to learn more and more to see as beautiful what is necessary in things; then I shall be one of those who makes things beautiful. Amor fati: let that be my love henceforth! I do not want to wage war against what is ugly. I do not want to accuse; I do not even want to accuse those who accuse. Looking away shall be my only negation. And all in all and on the whole: some day I wish to be only a Yes-sayer.”

–Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science


I have Amor fati tattooed on my left wrist, prefaced with a semi-colon. The left wrist is where I once tested a chef’s knife to see what it would take to cut the ulnar artery. The nurses have always loved my veins; they are prominent and quick to bleed.

I was left with a scar for a few months, which has since faded. A semi-colon replaces the knife-mark. The semi-colon tattoo is reserved for those who have had suicidal ideation, or indeed, have attempted to quit their life altogether.

Two things stayed the blade. I thought of Ernest Hemingway, who eerily said, ‘I will go like my father’, he a son of a suicide. Both Hemingway and his father ultimately died during “hunting accidents”, the final flutter of dove wings and a gun’s report, but there was that one time Ernest tried to drown himself off the back of his beloved Pilar. He sank a few fathoms before thinking of his brood, and he exclaimed, “My sons!” through a mouthful of expired air. He swam to surface and gasped mightily, to live for a few more years.

Second, I thought of the Golden Gate jumper who, in a millionth of a chance, hit the water at the right angle so that his organs were saved rupture, and his lungs allowed the fortitude to breathe again. He speaks now against suicide on high school and college campuses. He is unfailingly asked, “What was your thought as you leapt?” He replies soberly: “This is a mistake.” I imagine him falling at 200mph with that his purported last thought.

I didn’t want to bleed out, close my eyes to the world weakened by a broken artery with a feeling of ultimate regret. I didn’t want to leave my sons with a father-sized hole. I chose to live.

I choose to live, amor fati.

From Marcus Aurelius: “A blazing fire makes flame and brightness out of everything that is thrown into it.”

From Epicectus: “Do not seek for things to happen the way you want them to; rather wish that what happens happen the way it happens: then you will be happy.”

From Friedrich Nietsche: “That one wants nothing to be different, not forwards, not backwards, not in all eternity. Not merely bear what is necessary, still less conceal it…but love it.”

When the knife blade sliced into my arm, I was sure I was done living, that I couldn’t live with or without alcohol, that I was at the jumping-off point. I bled, but I didn’t bleed out. I wrapped my wrist: “This is a mistake.” I calmly stopped the flow and let the wound see air. I would later be in a hospital for a dual diagnosis of depression and alcoholism, receiving the help I desperately needed.

I am a migrating moon, a panoply of phases that come and go. “This, too, shall pass” is wisdom for my nomadic self, tugged as it is by the pulls of my head and heart. Even the New Moon, however invisible, is beautiful, as much as is the Full Moon; I am cycles of life and in my mortal cycling, love every minute.

I did a gratitude exercise: I visited my grandfathers in their respective mauseleum crypts, knelt down before the names on the walls, and whispered my thanks to them both, for my alcoholism. For my manic-depression. Through the passing of their genes, I am who I am, and having the wherewithal to accept what it is that afflicts me makes me a more intact human being. Intact comes from the French, integrite. Whole.

Amor fati. May you love your fate, too.


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