Gainsay Who Dare

Randomly, for the last several years, friends would joke that I should get a tattoo. I always kind of shrugged. A tattoo? Me? Really?

I had thought maybe for my 35th birthday. I pondered what I might want to get, and that was harder. There’s lots of stuff I have seen and thought “that’s cool.” But, if I am going to get something on my body, permanently, I wanted more than cool. I wanted something that was a sort of talisman. A reminder and a promise.  The whole thing was just a bit deep, so I really didn’t think of it much at all. At least not until March of this year.

I started thinking about all of the changes we were making, all of the decisions we were making. I thought about how work had changed, and how much I had stretched and grown as a person. I started thinking about who I used to be, and who I was trying to be, and what I thought about the process of getting there.

Suddenly, the sort of tattoo I wanted became much clearer.

I chose a compass rose. On my body is a reporoduction from an old Irish map, something that marked time and space a very long time ago.

It must have been a scary thing back in the middle part of the last century to set out onto the ocean. It must have been scary to sail past all of the known land marks, square into the middle of that area marked “here be dragons”.

I’ve spent a lot of time in what you might call dragon-infested waters. I’ve spent time in deep water, water over my head. Some times I have been sailing smoothly, and sometimes holding on to the main mast for very dear life. Sometimes I have been totally washed overboard, and I have found myself treading water for dear life, wondering if there were circling sharks.

More than that, especially in the last year, I have spent a lot of time charting my own course – filling in our own destinations on the map. When you decide to get off the fertility merry go round, when you decide to live a life that is far outside of societies’ norms, when you decide to kick your career into high gear, there aren’t a lot of maps. This really isn’t charted territory.

There is true north, still. Always. Where ever you are, there are the ordinal directions. And a promise that I read in a book a long time ago.

16 years ago, in fact, way back in high school, when I read Margaret Laurence’s seminal work “The Stone Angel”. The family motto was Gainsay Who Dare. The family motto was above all else a refusal to be beaten down. I refusal to give up and give in.

I am through with letting others chart our paths. I am through with throwing in the towel when people tell me what I can’t do or when people tell me what I must do, so that I can make their lives easier by fitting into a nice, neat box. I’m through with the box, I’m setting out for the deeper water.

It has been a hard year on so many fronts. Today I found a bit of victory in a 4 inch by 4 inch piece of permanent ink on my left shoulder.


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14 Responses to Gainsay Who Dare

  1. Heidi says:

    I love it!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  2. Beautiful tattoo … and something absolutely perfect and unique for you. I’m approaching my 40th bday next year (gotta pass the 39th one this week first) and I’ve always told myself I’d get a tattoo for my 40th bday. I, too, know exactly what I want.

  3. That is awesome!!!!

  4. HereWeGoAJen says:

    Beautiful choice. 🙂

  5. debby says:

    I’m not a big tattoo fan (despite being the mother of tattooed children). I think that this is perfect. I’ve been letting the words run over my tongue. Gainsay those who dare. I don’t understand them, not entirely, but they sound ancient, and true and, wise. Just the sort of tattoo I’d expect you to have.

    All my children have designs, save one. She has the Divine Sign of Constantine. It means something powerful to her, just as yours does to you.

  6. loribeth says:

    Like Debby, I’m not a huge tattoo fan — but I love yours, & I love the meaning behind it. “Gainsay who dare,” indeed! : )

  7. Kristin says:

    A truly beautiful design and I love the meaning behind it.

  8. linds says:

    I love the tattoo and the thought behind it. 🙂

  9. Elizabeth says:

    That is totally cool! It’s beautiful, classic, profound, and somehow just seems perfect in every way for you. Like, it’s badass in a totally Mrs. Spit sort of badass way (or would you Canadians say badarse?) xo

  10. a says:


  11. Brown Owl says:

    In true Mrs. S style, you have taken a stand and chosen a symbol that has beauty, clarity, truth, and total relevance.
    (And knitted while you did it!)

  12. Erica says:

    I love it! Your ink is beautiful, and so is the meaning behind it.

  13. Neeroc says:

    Gorgeous work. I too hope to one day find something I want on my body for the rest of my life.

  14. Amber says:

    Hi, I know this thread is very old, so I am unsure if I will get a response. However, I am hoping to get a tattoo of my own soon of my family motto which is ‘gainsay who dare’. I have seen this stone angel (?) referenced a few times on the internet while I was researching (I wanted to make sure my tattoo was correct) and was wondering if perhaps you could tell me a bit more about what it is? My surname is MacDonald and the specific clan I am from has the exact same motto. I’m curious to know if there are other families with the same motto! Thanks 🙂

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