Last week I was in my backyard, talking to my neighbor. As she hung her arm over the fence to pet my dog desperately stretching to reach her, I saw a new tattoo on her wrist. It was simple, stark even. It was a semicolon.
This quiet tattoo is now decorating the ankles and wrists and shoulders of hundreds of people in my neighborhood and maybe yours, too. It’s a conversation starter for difficult and painful subjects – suicide, addiction, and mental illness. I’m not going to discuss the staggering numbers, the lives lost, or the lives forever changed of those left behind. We’ve all heard them. Statistics don’t move people.
The simple fact is if you haven’t had suicide, addiction, or mental illness touch your own lives, you know someone it has touched. That is one degree of separation, guys. One. Freaking. Degree.
Yeah, yeah, it’s national headlines when we lose someone famous, like Heath Ledger or Robin Williams. For a brief instant it is illuminated for all to see, to grieve, to shake our heads and say “oh, how tragic, what a loss.” Then the subject of suicide/addiction/mental illness scuttles back into the dark where it’s comfortable and safe and we return to our lives in progress.
The semicolon tattoo is dragging it back into the light. According to ProjectSemicolon’s website, people are using the semicolon tattoo like a writer would, as a pause, a breath to think, and then keep going. They are tattooing the reminder for them and others to see—as a proud token of survival, an invitation for questions, in memory of a lost loved one, or to spark others to start a conversation which then spreads.
I’d like to share the Vision page of the Project Semicolon website (projectsemicolon.com) written by the Founder and President, Amy Bleuel:
“The vision is that together we can achieve lower suicide rates in the US and around the world;
That together we can start a conversation about suicide, mental illness and addiction that can’t be stopped;
We envision love and hope and we declare that hope is alive;
We envision a society that openly addresses the struggle with mental illness, suicide and addiction;
We envision a conversation embraced by churches and addressed with love;
We envision a society that sees their value and embraces it;
We envision a community that comes together and stands together in support of one another;
We envision a world where an escape is not found within drugs or alcohol;
We envision a world where self-destruction is no longer a escape to be used;
We envision a revolution of LOVE and declare that our stories are not over yet;”
My neighbor recently lost her son. Her world shifted in ways we cannot even imagine, never to be the same again. One could view that the semicolon inked on her wrist is a symbol of her grief. But it’s so much more than that. It’s a symbol of her strength surviving it; a symbol of her support to others experiencing their own hell; a symbol of community, and most of all a symbol of hope that starting a conversation with just one person could change someone’s life. Because the semicolon is really saying “take a breath, your story isn’t over yet.”
And that, my friends, is awesome.