I have a chasm, deep in my chest, a hole ripped into me when I was three. Inside is a dark roach-filled box apartment crouched on a back street in Queens. A single lightbulb in the windowless bathroom casts the shadow of my father looming over me on the wall as I hear the muffled pounding of my mother’s fist on the locked door, pleading for him to stop. A three year
old doesn't know how to process this kind of violence, this hot flame of rage. There I dwelled for ten long years, doing what I could to protect myself as that hole deepened and widened around me.
We all have these shadows, these deep empty rifts, into which we dare not gaze too deeply. Gouged in our most tender and vulnerable spaces when we were too young, wounds that we do our best to live with from day to day. On the good days, it’s a tender ache, and on the bad, it’s a brutal shame.
As a young man, trying to make something of myself in the world, I often struggled on the precipice of this emptiness. When I got my first car, they gave me a license plate with the words "Live free or die" emblazoned at the bottom. And so at 21, I bought a pistol and a box of bullets. I placed it on my table as I considered it, cold and black. After I few days, I returned it, deciding I would live free.
It's an existential choice that has had me long trying to escape this orbit, to sate this empty space that threatens to swallow me when I'm least expecting it, and fulfill an unabated desire to simply feel alive. It's kept me moving, striving, and seeking, and yet, while there have been brushes with the transcendent, I sometimes shake my head at how little progress I have made.
These days, my short-term memory is kind of shot from spending over a decade functionally high. I traveled far with psychedelics, exploring with my tribe over mountains, through forests, and in the dunes under the stars of the stark Colorado sky. I started and sold companies and chased, caught, and discovered the bankrupt emptiness of prestige, more times than I would care to admit. My torn up ears, herniated discs, and aching body require a team of
health professionals to patch me up and keep me going through a lifetime of martial arts. The years I spent in London and Beijing studying the art of combat have put hard miles on the body, and now the daily practice of jiujitsu, where people I consider my brothers and sisters attempt to strangle me and break my limbs in an intricate game of human chess.
But through it all, that deep rift remained, and while it drives me now less than it used to, and on more and more days my spirit will rise far above, there are still some days I find myself holding on to the edge by my fingertips, determined not to fall in.
Yesterday I happened to see a remarkable video of a 17-year old girl, singing Lenoard Cohen's Hallelujah into a deep, dark well with her sweet, sublime voice. And as her voice echoed back up through the well, it produced perhaps the most beautiful sound I have ever heard. I could only listen as her voice, amplified into something unbelievably majestic by this deep, empty space, filled my heart and tears filled my eyes.
As I approach the end of my 45th year, I may not have learned much, but I know this: while I may never fully heal, I think of my beautiful son, my beautiful wife, and I know that when I really disassemble, and allow myself to unfold like an open page, their love echoes through this empty chamber in my chest just like that resonant voice, to create something exquisite, beautiful, and real.