The Sentence I Pulled Together

I had the opportunity to hear Brene Brown speak a few days ago while attending SXSW. I love the way she uses stories to give purpose to research and science. I love the way she humanizes the unfamiliar places in ourselves that we think nobody else could ever understand. I love the way she does all of this with a thick Texan accent that makes me want to sit down and spill my guts over a warm mug of chamomile tea. It was a delight to see her in person.

As she spoke, I found myself lost in her sea of words, swimming toward one story after another. One distinct phrase jumped out at me, deafening the ones to follow. As she talked about a moment when she was emotionally charged, she described herself as constructing a sentence through pulling it together. In my mind, I could see her. Searching through heaps of nouns, piles of verbs, and looking for just the right adjectives. Then, using her own strength to heave them next to one another,she formed the sentence that would ultimately shape her next few minutes, and maybe even the rest of her life. She built it, then she lived in it.

As I thought about Brene Brown constructing metaphorical housing with her words, my own back ached from a sentence I had inked into my skin only two days before. After four hours of tattoo time, several weeks of planning, and  months of discussion I had inscribed on my shoulder an image and saying from my favorite children’s book, The Important Book.

“The important thing about you is that you are you.”

It isn’t a sentence that I built. It belongs to Margaret Wise Brown. Yet, it is one that I think I pulled together.

I seized the sentence when I first read it. It felt like acceptance. I believed, truly believed, for years that there was nothing unique about myself. I felt mediocre at most things, and could adapt to most situations, but I couldn’t find talent. It wasn’t for lack of searching. A jack of all trades, master of none. I hid behind other peoples’ passions and hoped just enough of them would rub off on me. That sentence told me that my uniqueness wasn’t in my talent, or lack of it, but instead it nestled in my very ability to be myself. I could stop searching and start living.

I held on to the sentence when I took The Important Book with me to Kenya. I bought two copies of the book. One to read to my own children before I left, a second to read to children I had never even met. I read it repeatedly to both groups , never with a dry eye. “The important thing about the sky is that it is always there. It is true that it is blue, and high, and full of clouds and made of air. But the important thing about the sky is that it is always there.” The book traveled 9,000 miles through that sky to a place it always belonged, then stayed there while I traveled 9,000 miles back through the same sky to a place I always belonged.

I rejoiced in the sentence when I learned that my new (at the time) friend Natalie had the very same favorite picture book as me. An obscure book, not known by many, had stolen both of our hearts and in the months to follow my heart would be stolen all over again by her and what a significant friend she turned out to be. We both got images and sentences from the book, designed and tattooed by the same artist. She is full of beauty and wisdom, and now both of our shoulders are as well.

So it became my sentence. I didn’t build it,  but I rebuilt it- piece by piece, word by word, and action by action- until I had pulled together the sentence that I wanted to stay with me forever. The sentence that I seized, the sentence that I held on to, and the sentence that I will always rejoice in.

I hope everyone finds a sentence they can pull together.

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Tattoo from Erin Ruiz. Artwork inspired by Leonard Weisgard.

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