One of the first questions I often get asked after talking to a group of youth is, “What does it say on your knuckles?” From time to time I have dismayed having my knuckles tattooed; simply for the fact that instead of something profound, instead of some deep personal question that perhaps my talk has ignited in someone’s heart, I am getting asked, yet again, what is written on my fingers. Despite my disappointment that I have not ignited a passionate discourse I slip off my wedding ring and present my fists for inspection. “Hold fast?... What does that mean?” Sometimes I will tell them it is their homework to go figure out what it means. Other times, I will give the simple answer, “It’s about perseverance.” And sometimes I will launch into my full answer.
I first saw it in the movie Master and Commander, a film I have seen only once. A sailor had the words HOLD FAST written on his knuckles. When the storms came it was his job to grip the line. He had those words tattooed there as encouragement to hold tight and never let go. Think of the word “fasten” or “fasteners” like screws or nails. To hold fast, is to hold tight, to grip something securely. For me it became a metaphor for life. Storms will always come in our lives and when they do I need the reminder to hold fast, hold tight and secure to those things that I know are good and right and true to get me through the storm.
I need that reminder often. Today, in fact, I needed that reminder. I could feel it start to creep up from within me. Feelings of hopelessness or despair, my thoughts started to cloud over with futility in the face of obstacles and walls that were shooting up in my path.
Last week, I lost my cell phone. This is a real nuisance, but ultimately not that big of a wall in my path. However, I know that every cell phone and laptop uses the mineral Coltan which is largely mined by Canada in The Democratic Republic of The Congo. Canada mines many minerals there, deliberately taking advantage of the absolutely horrendous conditions in the Congo (including the systemic rape of the women there – some consider it to be the worst place in the world to be a woman) for inexpensive minerals and metals. Long story short, I want to commit to buying used cell phones or laptops, when I need a new one, so as not to add to the demand for more Coltan, however, trying to get a refurbished cell phone through my provider proved to be exceedingly difficult. It really came down to this, I could get a refurbished I-phone for $349 or I could get a brand new one for $99. REALLY??!? REALLY?!?!? I’m trying to do the right thing and the whole system is geared towards getting me do to what would go directly against my personal ethics.
This probably would not have been enough to bring on the cloud except that shortly after I was given a piece of bad news that stand in the way of some really cool new initiatives The Dam is working on. Yesterday we encountered an additional roadblock to these initiatives. Again, trying to do something AWESOME, but finding barricades in our path.
On top of all that I’m a little under the weather, battling a cough for the past couple days and I also woke up Thursday with an incredibly sore and stiff neck on the left side.
All these factors put together led towards a moment where I felt this weight on my shoulders... an oppression darkening my outlook. Thankfully though, I recognized it immediately. Today, it was but a moment and don’t worry, I’m holding fast. I will find a refurbished or used phone. We will continue to move ahead at The Dam and challenge communities to invest in their youth. A little reminder to HOLD FAST, a dose of perspective and I’m ready to go.
I know full well that what cell phone to buy, circumstances at work and passing illness pale in comparison to the trials others are facing today. Some of you are dealing with death, depression, addiction, poverty, abuse... the list, unfortunately, goes on... One question that I have often posed to those wondering about my knuckle tattoos is this; what do you have to hold fast too?
See today it just took a little kick in the pants and the clouda depart and I’m ready to go, but it’s not always that easy. There was a time in my life in particular when bad news and set backs and broken relationships and dealing with pain would likely result in destructive relationship choices or excessive use of drugs or alcohol. I am fortunate not to be an addict, but for those struggling with addiction the mantra of HOLD FAST is unlikely to be enough; an entire support network is needed in order to fight the battle of sobriety. For some of us, we are battling demons of depression that need more than just a little self-talk to help us come into a place of healing.
I think about all the tragedy recently in the hockey world. The recent plane crash has capped off a devastating summer that has seen both overdose and suicide take their toll on the hockey community and usher in a cloud of confusion and question. People are asking good questions about depression and caring for each other and I hope that is part of the good that can come out of this. When a young guy with kids and a seemingly bright future has all the light sucked out of his perspective... that is a tragedy. How does the cloud get so thick? How does the internal pain get so intense?
It is unfortunate that tragedy often strikes before we are willing to push our friendships to a deeper place. How do we care for one another? How do we help each other hold fast? How do we reach out to our friends to be part of what they can hold onto to help them persevere through the hard times? How do we de-mystify the battle of depression and help take the shame away that people feel when they can’t just ‘shake it off’? We can never blame ourselves for the tragedies that have occurred, but we can move on and ask the hard questions about how we prevent it from happening again.
The words HOLD FAST are never enough. They can, for some, even conjure up the hurtful imagery of needed to stand on your own against whatever gets thrown at you. If you are a ‘real man’ you will stand up against all odds. We need to crumple up that idea and throw it in the garbage. The ability to confront the things that come our way will take a different form for all of us. While for me my family, extended support network of friends and mentors and my faith have helped me find a place of grounding where I can face those scary places of challenge and difficulty, for others the task will be much harder. For some, it might be therapy, medication and very specific routines that will guide the way to solid ground.
For certain though, as time goes on, for each of us, it will become more and more necessary to find solid relationships. Friendships that are real friendships, where nothing is hidden and there is no shame or blame. Mentors with whom we are honest and transparent who can encourage us to be the people that we’ve dreamed we can be. Faith that we are not on our own as we face the very toughest circumstances of our lives.
Don't stand alone. It's too much for anyone to face the battle by themselves. For joy to gain ground in your life it might be time to talk to someone. That sailor on the ship was ready to face some very difficult nights, but he was not the only sailor on the ship. They all had to work together to make sure the ship did not capsize, to make sure that the storm didn't win!
HOLD FAST my friends. You can persevere through the most trying of times and circumstances. As you do, remember, you do not have to do it alone!!