What Semper Fidelis Means to Me

It’s a beautiful July morning, and I am sitting at the table with a blank sheet of paper in front of me, pen in hand, mindlessly rubbing the tattoo on my foot, willing myself to think — really think — about the words I got inked into my skin three years ago. “Semper Fidelis.” I often come up blank when people ask me why I chose to get this phrase permanently etched onto my body. For once, I want to articulate how completely, how ardently, how sincerely I love these words.

Ultimately, I believe that “Semper Fidelis” is the best mantra one can adopt in life.

I got this tattoo at the very end of a year studying at the University of Pittsburgh, which is where I met the man who later became my husband. He was a military brat in his second year of NROTC, and I was a British student who was overwhelmed by the hot, vast, noisy city. I came from Exeter, back in the UK, where everything was small, pleasant, and ancient; incidentally, Exeter’s coat of arms has included the phrase “Semper Fidelis” since the 17th century.

Having met Killian, we quickly fell for one another, and my experience of America was largely coordinated by him: the military history museums, the awards ceremonies, time spent with his family near Camp Pendleton. It was, quite easily, the best year of my life. I suppose, in part, my “Semper Fidelis” tattoo was an homage to the unique way he colored my time at Pitt, but I am level-headed enough to know that we almost certainly shouldn’t have “worked out.” Even so, if we hadn’t remained together, it wouldn’t undo the fact that whenever I see this tattoo, I smile; it is a permanent reminder of a truly beautiful time in my life.

My husband and I have come a long way since I sat in that Pittsburgh tattoo parlor, biting down hard as the thin, sharp pain surged along my right foot. If you’d asked me what our intentions were — back when we weren’t engaged, I had no way of immigrating to the US, and we’d see each other once every four months — I wouldn’t have been able to tell you. We were just “together,” and it was the only thing that made sense. That quiet, unerring faith that things would come together in the end was the only constant. We could easily have looked at each other and said, “nope,” jumped ship, “consciously uncoupled” ourselves, but we just believed in our relationship. We had faith in the eventuality. Sure enough, that faith paid off in the end.

Four years later, we are married. I moved across the Atlantic to be with him, right across to the west coast, and together back to the east coast. By this time next year, we will have made two more moves, and there’s a strong chance he’ll be on his first deployment. This military lifestyle is turbulent, unpredictable, and creates a lot of loneliness and upheaval. We’re no strangers to this life; from the very first days, naively dating as college sophomores, the pattern has been the same. It’s built into the foundation of our relationship. So too is the dogged determination to keep going.

Being faithful in a relationship doesn’t simply mean being faithful to one another, but rather having faith in each other, despite time and distance, physical or emotional. In my relationship, faith is the fuel that sustains us, and will continue to do so even through the glitching Skype conversations and teary goodbyes. Faith in our relationship, and in each other, was the driving force to keep on going even when the future was uncertain. Faith showed us what could be, and drove us to build that vision. Faith is the reason I am able to be there to say hello and goodbye every day, from the comfort of our own home, and not clinging round his neck in a bustling airport.

There’s a drive within all of us towards faithfulness. It’s what makes us human: To create a relationship with a person, a divine being, or an idea that is so strong that it lends itself to reality. When we tap into it, our lives become a constant, beautiful search to become closer to that which we have faith in. Faith isn’t vague; faith is productive, tangible, and wholehearted. To be faithful to someone is to believe in them with absolute sincerity, to encourage them to be the very best that they can be, and to defend them to the end. Faith is keeping sight of the bigger picture, and nurturing that vision in small, everyday decisions and deeds.

These values, all the things that “faith” encapsulates, are the heart and soul of the Marine Corps. The men and women of the Marine Corps are expected to demonstrate the finest traits of human character, so it’s natural that faithfulness is at the very pinnacle. To be “always faithful” is to show honor, courage, and commitment on the battlefield and in everyday life, no matter what. While only a select few become Marines, we can all take a cue from this philosophy.

To me, “Semper Fidelis” is the only mantra that matters, once everything is said and done. Being faithful is the most important element of a person’s life. “Semper Fidelis” is more than just a military buzzword; it exemplifies every honorable aspect of being human. Having faith means that there is always happiness to be found after life trips you up and leaves you lying in the dirt. Faith creates a glimmer of good in this chaotic world. Faith creates life by giving meaning to it; faith fills blank pages. And I think there’s something really wonderful about that.

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