"Had to sacrifice all to earn favor"
- Ka, "Eye of a Needle"
One night back in March of this year, I was struck by a vision about sacrifice. I was laying in a hammock in my backyard, looking up at the stars. Soaking in the pleasures and privileges of my existence, appreciating my comforts yet realizing that I was not at all satisfied with my life, I was aching for something new.
At that point, I had accumulated everything I could have ever wanted in life---I owned a house on a nice big piece of property, with a canopy provided by a dozen oak trees, the property peppered with colorful flowers and paddle cactus plants, succulents, and a big vegetable garden. The property was surrounded by a tall privacy fence, the backyard was renovated, spacious, peaceful, comfortable. Inside the house I had a library full of books, walls covered with art, comfy couches to sit and read on, a fireplace to sit next to with my dog, and a desk to do my writing. I had a big, playful puppy, a pittie-German shepherd mix who always kept me feeling safe, whose energy always brought me joy. And I had a woman who I'd been with for many years, been to hell and back with, she a professional and accomplished nutritionist who also maintained our big vegetable garden and did much of the work to make our house feel homey and nice. I had all of that and yet I felt completely unsatisfied with this life, felt myself becoming obsessed with a new craving for adventure and exploring the unknown. I was feeling like the creative energies in my life had become dulled and dormant. Felt like my life and whatever youth I had left, was slipping away day by day. I'd been depressed for a while after three of my friends passed away unexpectedly during the pandemic lockdown. Then that night in March, I started thinking about Tarkovsky's 1986 movie The Sacrifice.
I had seen The Sacrifice a couple years prior when a friend, who's a devoted scholar of Tarkovsky, brought me to a screening at the Austin Film Society. I remember being totally awed by the film's visionary qualities, impacted by the scenes of the house rattling from warplanes overhead, the scenes of stillness and nature and especially the famous scene of the burning house. But after seeing the film I didn't have much of any appreciation for what it meant, what it was conveying. That is, until that night back in March when I was overwhelmed with thoughts about the meaning and importance of sacrifice. I started replaying scenes from the film in my head and I read synopses online and I realized that the main character was stricken by a feeling that the world was out of joint, that he needed to sacrifice everything he loved in order to restore peace. I started dwelling on the meaning of sacrifice---as in, a sacrifice to God or to the gods or to the universe, in order to earn favor and fortune and restore creative energies. To bring balance to the universe. The more I dwelled on it, the more it made literal sense to me. The notion of sacrificing what you love, renouncing possessions, giving up what makes you feel secure and comfortable in order to, in some symbolic way, feed the creative fires of the universe---this mythical, primitive idea suddenly made sense to me on a deeply personal level. The meaning of sacrifice felt real.
That night I realized the only way I could fix my aching depression and dissatisfaction with life was to dismantle and demolish the life I had built, to sacrifice it all and plunge into the unknown with the faith that things would all work out for the better, that the creative energies of my universe would be restored by my sacrifice and guide me to a new, more fulfilling life. This was a terrifying realization because it meant I would need to give up everything that made me feel secure and comfortable. I would have to endure the suffering of separation from what I had become attached to, which was a feeling of security. For ten years I'd been living in tiny apartments until finally I'd been able to buy a nice big house, then over several years we invested so much work and energy into the house to make it comfortable. Then we added the big puppy dog into the mix and the house became his home too. And now I had reached the realization with certainty that I needed to give all that up to go seek happiness in the unknown. I knew then that to restore balance in my life I needed to sacrifice everything that made me feel secure to instead go off alone, in Joyce's phrase "wandering among the snares of the world." I had to destroy the life I had built so I could eventually rebuild my life in a better way.
* * *
"As soon as I emerged from a self-made prison
My own ambitions made way for the decision of a lifetime, of a lifetime
It ain't sit right with me that I might die
No, I can't go, I got work to do
The never-ending life cycle, how a circle do
This is personal
This is personal"
- Navy Blue, "Light"
During the peak of the pandemic lockdown, some of my friends died unexpectedly. I wrote about this earlier this year. Adding to the pain of those sudden losses was being unable to process their deaths properly with any sort of wake or gathering to memorialize them. The shock of those deaths made an impact on me that eventually changed my life. I found it especially difficult to process the death of my old friend and coworker Scott who was the same age as me and had been in good health, only to be found dead in his apartment one night in late October 2020. After that I began to develop a craving to get out and see the world, to go try and fulfill my dreams and dream big, to no longer defer any of my ambitions into the future but to try and live life now since it had become abundantly clear to me that I could die at any moment. Scott was a deep philosophical thinker, a passionate mind with a love for literature. We often talked about life and death, he loved getting into heavy discussions. Feeling a bit of guilt over his sudden death, I also developed an ambition to live big and embark on exciting adventures in his honor. He (along with many other friends of mine) had insisted for years that I go visit Ireland because of my love of James Joyce's art and because Scott had been there once before and felt it was a special place. So, when I was at the beginning of my recent overseas adventure and found myself getting drunk on whiskey while hanging inside a stone tower built in 1804 on the coast of Dublin, I was toasting to Scott and communing with his spirit.
A recent NYRB article about Dostoyevsky discusses how the Russian novelist was sentenced to a Siberian prison camp as a political prisoner and while he was there, was the victim of a "mock execution." He and the other prisoners were condemned to death, given their last rites, taken outside to face a firing squad, and at the very last possible moment the execution was called off. Some of his fellow prisoners went insane in reaction to this and never recovered while Dostoyevsky went on to compose some of the most profound novels ever written. One of his biographers posits that the experience of the mock execution left Dostoyevsky "with a completely different view of time and ethics, which Frank calls 'eschatological [apocalyptic] apprehension.' Dostoevsky concluded, he says, that 'every instant takes on a supreme value,' and 'each moment of the present is when a decisive choice has to be made.'" Although I did not experience anything nearly as harrowing as Dostoyevsky, the death of some people close to me left me with a similar feeling about the importance of each instant. I became increasingly uneasy about wasting time. I felt whatever youth I had left was being wasted in the exceedingly comfortable yet quiet existence I was living at my nice house with my ex-girlfriend and my dog. I was consumed by an urgent need to get out and experience the world.
So I made the decision to give up everything I had, to downsize my existence, donate or sell off most of my things and place all my books into storage, pack up a couple suitcases and go off into the world. Originally I planned to drive around the United States visiting everyone I know in different states, but once I was out of the house and away from my dog I found it too painful to be anywhere near my old place, so I decided to go faraway and flew overseas to Ireland. There I was blessed to meet a Brazilian girl, a lawyer and a deep, passionate thinker who I connected with on a level that made it seem like she'd known me for a long time. Eventually she brought me to meet some of her extended family in the South of France and it became one of the most incredible adventures of my life. When I was dismantling my previous existence, moving out of the house and putting all my stuff into storage, I felt a strong sense all of that, even though it was painful and difficult, was just a preparation for a future more exciting than anything I'd previously conceived of. Months later, when I was zooming around the Mediterranean Sea in a boat with Brazilians, diving off the boat into pristine waters off the coast of a small town near Marseilles, floating in the sea, drinking lots of champagne, staying in a penthouse in Cannes, visiting the Picasso Museum in a 14th century castle in Antibes, driving through the mountains of southern France, drinking the best wine in the world and eating like a king at a restaurant in a small French town on some Anthony Bourdain shit, I knew then that my earlier visions and realizations about sacrifice were meaningful and important. I knew that my premonitions about taking a daring leap into the unknown had manifested, my determination had paid off. My new future was being constructed and it was indeed more incredible than anything I'd ever imagined.
While the process has already been rewarding, none of this has been easy. I'm having to figure things out week to week. As I write this, my latest European adventure has recently concluded, I went to six countries in a span of eight weeks and had enough amazing experiences to write about and talk about for the rest of my life. But now I'm back in Staten Island, NY, staying at the house I grew up in, sleeping in the same bedroom I was in since I was an infant. Maybe in some way I'm connecting with my inner child and healing some old wounds. Above all I'm trying to recompose myself and plot a new future while continuing to heal from past loss. I know the pandemic era has been difficult for many people and that my deconstructing of my life to build something new is part of a larger pattern in which many people are quitting their jobs or getting divorced and going off into something new. For anyone who's suffering, I hope you can feel inspired to hold on and to be brave and to grasp at your dreams.