9125 days. That’s how long I’ve been alive.
It's 7:30 AM on a Wednesday morning and I'm curled up under a down comforter… I realize it’s my birthday, then wonder why the hell it’s so cold in the middle of March.
My tabby, Caspian purrs softly beside me as the dusty fan whispers quietly overhead.
From beyond the cardboard walls of my downtown apartment, I hear distant sirens echo against high rises like tenors inside a stone-walled cathedral.
I’m groggy and hit snooze, rolling back onto my side. Within moments, the borders of my consciousness flutter away and, as often happens on birthdays, my mind recedes back into the past.
I’m gliding across a clear glass lake in Alaska April, our inflatable Zodiac boat drifting toward the remote, rocky shore. From nowhere, a Grizzly bear club leaps from the water and across the bow, a shiny silver salmon clasped within her teeth. I blink, and before I know it I’m 7,000 miles away.
I find myself in the center of a narrow street in the dead of night, a sinister, sniper-topped wall to my back. A boy, not much younger than me describes his life on the wrong bank of Jerusalem, trapped in a prison without a roof.
Tears sting my cheeks like nettles.
I fast forward, my mind blending memories like a river meeting the sea…
Suddenly, I’m hiking 100 miles in the Rockies, stumbling over my feet as I learn to use my gangling legs and pubescent body.
I trip on the rocky soil and I’m falling - but I’m not in New Mexico anymore, my legs are above my head and I’m bungee-jumping off a bridge. Screaming, petrified, falling across the Zambia / Zimbabwe border - the rushing Zambezi River below and crashing Victoria Falls behind.
I hear the memory of my own profanities as I close my eyes tight, but when I open them I’m at peace, watching a rainbow of hot air balloons rise across a Turkish plateau from a sleeping bag inside an ancient cave.
Like the Soviet train that took me across Eastern Europe, my thoughts pick up steam, memories flying off the dusty shelves of an ethereal library in my mind…
Falling asleep in a hammock on the side of a Nicaraguan volcano, struggling to breathe in an unpressurized Vietnam-era turboprop landing in a Sudanese desert, fishing a black mamba out of a latrine in Kenya, reef diving in Maui before four-wheeling across Kaui....
I feel the heavy rain assault my face, the roof of my Arctic fishing hut torn off in the throes of a Norwegian storm.
The lyrics to “Wildest Dreams” play in the background as the storm dries up and I’m curled up on the floor of Taylor Swift’s home listening to her play an unreleased album.
Forty countries. Five continents. Four businesses. One lifetime of adventure woven into less than three decades.
Caspian paws at my face, clawing me from my thoughts, scowling in admonishment over her empty dish.
I roll out of bed to fill her ceramic bowl before padding to the bathroom. After brushing my teeth, I crack my black journal and flip back through the pages.
The tattered Moleskine in my hands contrasts the narrative of grand adventure, my inky black handwriting paralleling the inky black places I once found myself.
In spite of my achievements and laudable successes… for years when I tried to find dreams at night, I found myself instead swallowed up in nightmares; afraid if my demons left me, the angels would too.
Silently, for many of my years, I struggled with self-doubt, depression, and anxiety. I’d spent so much of my life traveling the world, telling other people’s stories… but struggling in silence to believe in my own.
In the last twelve months though, I’ve started sharing more-and-more of myself - slowly at first, and then all at once. Before I knew it, those monsters inside me turned out to be nothing more than trees.
And so, as I reflect on the first quarter of my life - I remember my extraordinary adventures, but mostly I think about my shadowy canyons… and all they’ve taught me about the light.
When I think of luminescence, I think about all of you: friends and family, counselors and coaches, mentors and advisors… and the fleeting glimpses of eternity revealed to me in the courage, forgiveness, hope, and laughter you’ve offered so freely.
I can say, for the first time in my life, I’m not afraid of the dark anymore… because I’ve found, when you sit it long enough, your eyes adjust and you start to see all the people sitting around you, and realize they’ve been there all along.
I can't tell you how grateful I am to know and be known by you.
Courage dear heart,