"But the Hebrew word, the word timshel—‘Thou mayest’— that gives a choice. It might be the most important word in the world. That says the way is open. That throws it right back on a man... Why, that makes a man great, that gives him stature with the gods, for in his weakness and his filth and his murder of his brother he has still the great choice. He can choose his course and fight it through and win....Confucius tells men how they should live to have good and successful lives. But this—this is a ladder to climb to the stars.” Lee’s eyes shone. “You can never lose that. It cuts the feet from under weakness and cowardliness and laziness. This is not theology. I have no bent toward gods. But I have a new love for that glittering instrument, the human soul. It is a lovely and unique thing in the universe. It is always attacked and never destroyed— because ‘Thou mayest.’"
Like Lee, I have "no bent toward gods". But that book and especially that passage kind of blew my mind in terms of my understanding of human nature. It also made me fall in love, or back in love, with the human soul and the light that sparks it, which is free will. So I got a tattoo as a reminder of the indomitable, sometimes transcendent, sometimes terrifying human spirit and the incredible power of free will: the power and freedom it gives us to give in or to fight, to hate or to forgive, to fear or to love. We are ultimately the creators of our own destiny, and we have the responsibility to ourselves to choose it, to fulfill it. Even when I feel like curling up into a little ball and surrendering to the world, when I think of this it gives me strength.
"Why the need for a tattoo?", some might ask. Why not just remind yourself in a less permanently-inked-into-your-body way? The thing is, it's really more than a reminder. It's a commitment and a promise to myself, in black and white—or rather black and skin-tone, but really, my skin is pretty goddamn white—with me forever, or at least as long as my body is. A promise to always exercise my free will as a human being; to be myself, and to be better, to make the changes I need to make. To "choose my course and fight it out and win". So I'm starting. I'm not sure what's ahead of me, but when I feel afraid or need inspiration, at least all I have to do is look down at my arm.
Because free will is everything. It's our ladder to the stars and, if we choose to follow it, the path—however maybe long and winding—to our very best selves. The way is open. Timshel.