If I told you that I have the words “Semper Fidelis” permanently tattooed on my skin, what would you think? Would it make me super-patriotic (for a country I don’t even live in)? Would you assume I’m conservative, or religious, or personally affiliated with the military? And if I then told you that my boyfriend is training to be an officer in the U.S. Marine Corps, I would imagine that you’d smile and think obviously it’s a “boyfriend tat.” Woe betide me for committing the cardinal sin of body ink, right?
Well, I do indeed have a tattoo of the words “Semper Fidelis;” it was my first and most treasured tattoo. It’s true that—all being well—my boyfriend is going to commission with the U.S. Marine Corps in 2014. And, funnily enough, “Semper Fidelis” is also the motto of the city I went to university in (holla Exeter). But I’d like to affirm that the reason I have these words tattooed on me is for none of the reasons I just stated. And I’m not here to talk about tattoos, actually. I’m just here to talk about what those words mean to me, and why I love them so much that I chose to have them inked onto my body.
“Semper Fidelis” is a Latin phrase that translates in English as “Always Faithful.” For those of you reading this from outer space (or Britain), who aren’t aware of its significance, this motto has many uses, but perhaps most famously it’s the U.S. Marine Corps motto. Over here in the U.K., the words mean very little to my British peers; in the U.S., however, they’re deeply embedded into American culture. It’s become an emotive phrase that ignites powerful feelings of patriotic love and loyalty in families and individuals from the west coast to the east coast of the U.S. of A. And rightly so: these words signify the dedication that Marines have for “Corps and Country,” and bonds this elite family to the country they serve to defend. ‘Murica.
But why do these words mean so much to the Marine Corps, to Americans, and to humanity? I want to show you how I see these words: that is, I want to go back to basics and ask why to be ‘always faithful’ is such a beautiful, powerful, essential thing. This is what “Semper Fidelis” is to me; it’s about discovering faith, as simple and complex as this abstract noun may come.
To some “faith” signifies religious belief; to others, being “faithful” is part of a stable monogamous relationship. But to me, faith is not immediately either of these things: I do not identify myself as being religious, nor do I have a spotless credit history as far as relationships are concerned.
But I am still convinced that faith is the most important thing. Faith means something to all of us. It’s a powerful word: it divides people, it unites people, it creates the strongest loves and the deepest rifts. Faith keeps people going. Faith can save people in this life and it is faith that drives people to believe in the afterlife. You cannot do faith by halves; faith is whole-hearted and passionate. The world we live in is messed up. People are fallible, nature is cruel. Faith takes these things into account and overrides them anyway. It’s why in wartime we “keep calm and carry on;” it’s why people aren’t afraid to love and to die.
To me, faith is about striving and hoping and loving and believing.
To have faith in something is to be hopeful. Or, rather, it is similar to having hope—but it is more concrete. To be hopeful is to believe in something that may be vague or uncertain; to have faith is to have an ardent belief in something concrete. You can be “hopeful” in a general way; you can be optimistic. But to have faith in life to bring a better tomorrow is to channel your belief into something rather than nothing. It is active, not passive; it is determined, not ambiguous. To be faithful that things will improve, or to have faith in your ability to better yourself, is a sign of true optimism and confidence.
To be faithful is to be loyal. It is to perform your duties as a lover, a friend or a comrade because you feel, wholeheartedly, that it is right. Loyalty that stems from faith isn’t laborious or forced. If you stand by a person because you have faith in them, you do it out of selfless love. The Greeks called it agape love: it is unconditional, self-sacrificing and active. Faith stems entirely from agape love, and it binds people together in a way that makes selfless loyalty an organic, automatic duty.
To have faith is to risk. If you put your faith in a thing, a person or a concept, there are no guarantees. People make mistakes, concepts are intangible and often elusive. Et in Arcadia ego; even in a world that God created, there is still death. Nothing is ever completely certain, but faith is the willingness to take that risk and believe anyway.
To have faith is to believe, wholeheartedly, in something greater than yourself. It is to utilise the power of imagination—one of the many aspects of humanity that distinguishes us from animals—and conjure an image of something bigger, better, more beautiful… and to passionately believe that image is (or could become) a reality. It’s about dreaming big and channeling your energies into achieving that dream. It’s about believing in something that other people may refute and continuing to pursue an ardent faith in it anyway. It’s about seeing the light at the end of the tunnel and believing that you can reach it.
Moreover, to have faith in yourself is to believe in your greatest self. It is the knowledge that you are capable of achieving marvellous things, and the assurance that you will achieve them. It is actively pursuing your goals rather than sitting back and letting opportunities pass you by. It is seeing a version of yourself that you are proud of and committing to becoming that person by believing, every day and in every action, that you’re achieving it.
Ultimately, to have faith is indescribable. True faith is ineffable and unquantifiable. Like love, it cannot be entirely accounted for. It is a visceral, essential part of humanity that we would be lost without. It is more than the words you speak; it is a feeling that stirs a part of your soul that drives you forwards each and every day.
And this is why “Semper Fidelis” will always be my motto. This is why, I think, it has become such a powerful phrase not only for the Marine Corps but for all Americans. This is why I think we need to put an end to the cultural myths that often make “faith” synonymous with blindness or hatred. Faith is more than that; it is the act of commitment out of love, the ability to risk despite the odds, and the ability to see clearly in our darkest hour. Although our faiths divide us, our ability to have it is the great union of human character. And I think there’s something really wonderful about that.[divider] [/divider]
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