Being optimistic isn't easy but, with time, Sally Sampson has found that believing brings its own rewards. George Michael has taught her well.
On my twenty-third birthday, I woke up in the little basement apartment in London where I was living, I quickly got dressed and headed to the bus stop. I was nervous and a bit shaky, but in a happy I-just-got off-a-rollercoaster sort of way. And no, this wasn’t the aftermath of a one-night stand if that’s where your dirty little mind took you...
I got off the bus at Camden (a part of London known for being somewhat ‘alternative’ to put it mildly) and I walked into a tattoo parlour, along with my friend Janet, who was with me to help talk me out of talking myself out of getting a tattoo. Oh yes, I was finally going to cross that item off my bucket list, but of course, the voice in my head (my mother) kept warning me that I could very well get Hepatitis C, AIDS or some other disease that doctors hadn’t discovered yet (My mum had also threatened to disown me, but that’s nothing out of the ordinary…).
Surprisingly though, I didn’t need that much coaxing. I knew the tattoo I wanted and I knew where I wanted to get it. And even though the tattoo artist (a man with about a million piercings and tattoos himself who could not be persuaded to smile if you paid him in blowjobs) looked at me the same way you might look at a man taking a shit in the middle of the road, I walked out of that parlour positively beaming from ear to ear, with a lightness in my step and a slight pain in my right wrist. Oh yes, under layers of cellophane, anti-sceptic cream and etched under my skin in black ink, there it was! There was the one-word tattoo I’d been wanting since I was sixteen years old: faith.
Now, I realise, for some, this may be somewhat of an anticlimax. You were perhaps expecting me to get something a bit more bohemian, slightly less cheesy, a dash more audacious…I don’t know. I did ponder for some years whether I should get a Jolly Roger (it was during my Pirates of the Caribbean phase), but then I realised that overtime, my Jolly Roger would probably end up looking not so jolly so I abandoned the idea. I pondered getting faith tattooed on my shoulderin Chinese as well…and thankfully, that idea was trashed also.
But yeah: faith. It’s a very personal thing and I never really thought to write about it until now because in and of itself, faith is a tricky and rather elusive thing to discuss without seeming preachy and pedantic. It’s also very easy to cross that very thin line and talk religion, which is a sure-fire way to rile people up and have them (metaphorically and/or realistically) burn you at the stake, so I am going to respect that boundary and just point out that I’m going to speak only for myself and out of my own experience.
Now, I come from a family that often sees the glass as being half-empty. My parents are good people, but no matter what has come their way in life, I have very seldom heard them talk about how they’ve been blessed. Like anyone, they have had the good and the bad thrust at them, they have had their share of achievements and of obstacles, but they perpetually talk about all the awful things that have happened to them along the way.
Paranoia was a pretty big player in my family too. There were weeks, maybe sometimes months, where I would overhear my parents going through millions of conspiracy theories as to why the world was out to get them, how people were scheming and plotting, shadily trying to get my dad fired from his job, how close friends of the family were suddenly out to stab us in the back etc. etc. etc.
As you can imagine, it was an incredibly toxic environment to be in for everyone involved, because aside from the fact that, to this day, I still believe that there was very, very little truth to most of the conspiracies that were presented as fact during our family gatherings, my parents were so positively, wholly and unequivocally unhappy. So much so that I thought Les Miserables would be the perfect title for a reality TV show featuring me and my upbringing.
And they weren’t just unhappy, they were angry. They did their best not to let it out on us, but like I said, it was toxic (and at times volcanic) and there was no getting away from it.
And growing up in that, that’s all I knew and the natural consequence of it was that I was a bit of a complainer. I was always a dreamer too, but I was constantly bombarded with thoughts and ideas of why my dreams could not realistically ever work out. I fought against that mindset naturally; nevertheless, it was a fight against gravity and it was fucking exhausting. In short, I didn’t really believe in others, because somewhere in my mind, I believed that people were out to get me, and I certainly did not believe in myself, because why should I?
On a religious level, when I would read up on the nature of God and of all the good things He’s done for humanity, I was always filled with hope and with happiness …until I would listen to people’s interpretations of the religious texts. It always seemed to me that the God that they spoke of was not the same one that I had experienced and had read about. They made God out to be unapproachable, distant and somewhat scary. The God in my life felt nearer, warmer and promised to give me hope, drive and purpose. However, in periods of personal unrest and distress, where I swung from faith to disbelief and back like a pendulum in an earthquake, I struggled to find where my conviction truly lay.
Yes, I was a mess. I often felt like my head was inflexibly caught in an airplane toilet bowl with quite a violent and malfunctioning automatic flush. In all honesty, I could not make heads or tails of anything.
And then slowly overtime, I could. I’m not entirely sure how my head unwedged itself from that ever-flushing toilet bowl, but it did.
There was no scientific method behind it or anything… I just know that I never stopped fighting and that I was, within me, absolutely determined not to spend my life in abject wretchedness and gloom. I continued to do the things that I loved to do (write, perform and so on), and somehow like Dorothy finally landing in Oz after the storm, I found that I landed on my feet and life wasn’t really in black and white at all.
And when I tried to think, understand and reason with myself as to why things played out the way they did, only one word neatly summarised and concluded it all: faith.
I had faith in God that He was capable of doing everything He said He would in my life and I stuck to it like superglue, despite the alternative interpretations and violent opinions propelled at me from all directions.
I grew to have faith in others, because I couldn’t believe that the world, at large, was inherently evil, malicious and full of scheming villains out to do me harm.
And I learnt to have faith in myself, because when push comes to shove and everyone else disappears, goes away or gets eaten by lions or something, if I can’t push myself forward then I have failed before I have even started.
Helen Keller once said “Faith is the strength by which a shattered world shall emerge into the light.” And adding to that Mahatma Gandhi chimed in with “Faith is not something to grasp; it is a state to grow into.”
At the end of this article, you may stop and ask yourself a very poignant question: “So what?” And to answer your question quite bluntly: I don’t know. I just know that an absence of faith almost killed me and the presence of it, even in the form of a distant ember, saved me. (Just to emphasise, I’m not just speaking of religious faith here, but more of an overall sense of hope.) And I just wanted to share that with you.
Undoubtedly, there will be times when I may be uprooted again and like Dorothy, I may find myself on that yellow brick road once more without really knowing whether I’m going to make it back home. (Life’s a BITCH like that). I may forget where I came from, everything I’ve been through and just want to lie down and fall asleep or give up entirely.
That’s why I wanted faith to be forever impressed and engraved onto my body…so that even when I’m tempted to forget, I always have something to remind me to keep pushing, keep fighting and keep hoping.
And that’s why I got that tattoo!
Either that, or I just really like the George Michael song.