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Good jeans, good food, good style and good reads

Good jeans, good food, good style and good reads

A new year: On tattoos, trying things & inherited responsibility

Hope Voelkel

There’s a sort of grace that comes with newness, with not yet having the expectation that you can possibly have it all together physically, mentally or emotionally. It’s, perhaps, why some of us find the idea of a new year so refreshing, why we make lists of all the things we want to do or be that will be oh-so-different from how we have been. The hours and days have not yet been tarnished with our missteps. It all feels so very fresh, so hopeful when it’s not just the days flipping by one after another, but the year, the thing that defines our concept of time and future.

Five years ago I started getting tattoos—small feathers on the inside of my arm. I told myself I’d get them for every major life event, to mark it, to be an orienting point. They remind me of the journey I am on as an individual. As I get older, the fact that my journey is part of the fabric of a community—family, city, state and country—is something that becomes even more clear. There’s a ripple effect to my decisions that may not always be clear in the moment, but looking backward has clear implications for others.

The poet Mary Oliver once listened to a talk by Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney’s granddaughter where she used the phrase “inherited responsibility” when talking about her family’s received wealth. Oliver loved the phrase and writes on, “For it is precisely how I feel, who have inherited not measurable wealth but, as we all do who care for it, that immeasurable fund of thoughts and ideas…. The responsibility to live thoughtfully and intelligently. To enjoy, to question—never to assume, or trample. Thus, the great ones (my great ones, who may not be the same as your great ones) have taught me—to observe with passion, to think with patience, to live always daringly.” 

This year when I make an internal list about the things I want to do, the ways I want to be different (and better, obviously!) I’m thinking more than ever about my role in the fabric of the world around me as well as my “inherited responsibility.” In some ways, it’s easier to apply it to the work of Hem + Haw—the intentional employing of U.S. workers (new products coming!?!) in communities throughout the U.S., the thoughtful use (and reuse) of materials, the plans we have this year to donate profits to a handful of non-profits (a form of living daringly, no?). It’s tougher, of course to apply this to a personal level. Perhaps because it’s harder to see clearly, perhaps because I’m more attached to my ideas and plans and opinions. But I’m gonna try.

In this new year, I hope you, too, find a way to mark your own personal turning points (I highly recommend the tattoo route). I hope you can also make time, as Oliver says, “to observe with passion, to think with patience, to live always daringly.”