My eyes opened to the flashing lights of a freeway traffic sign revealing that I was about to collide with a concrete wall. I don’t know how fast I was going or how long my eyes had been shut, but I woke up with enough time to pull the steering wheel to the left so the impact wasn’t head-on, but was absorbed by the right side of the car. Post-initial impact, I wrestled with the steering wheel, battling to prevent the car from going completely out of control or worse, flipping. The tires blew out, the axels bent, and the car stopped between the 3rd and 4th lanes of America’s busiest freeway, the 405.
I watched as a group of cars passed, barely avoiding my wreck. Nobody stopped to see if I was ok. I realized I was on my own and needed to make a quick decision: stay and risk another crash or abandon my car and run across the freeway to safety.
I chose. I waited as another round of cars flew by, some slamming on their breaks, others swerving over one or two lanes to avoid the impact. Still nobody stopped. I grabbed my phone, unbuckled, jumped out of the car, and ran across the freeway. Like a successful game of frogger, I made it. I stood on the side of the freeway watching car after car zoom past, waiting for impact. I felt like I was watching a Youtube video. Thankfully, there was no second accident.
Although I almost lost my life, this isn’t an article about an accident, but about a breakthrough in love:
I sat in the passenger seat of my brother’s car, doing a poor job at holding back tears. He hugged me and told me he was happy his big brother was alive and not hurt.
About 20 minutes prior when he texted asking if I wanted him to pick me up, I didn’t answer. I almost requested a Lyft. I didn’t want to inconvenience him. When he texted he was on his way my heart sank, even though at that moment, I stood on a dark street, the freeway overpass above, the destroyed car on a tow truck flat bed next to me, a cop twice my size taking my statement, and being alone did not sound great either.
In my brother's car, the tears flowed. I tried to stop them. I didn’t want to cry in front of my little brother, or anyone for that matter. Why was I even crying? I was fine. I didn’t have a bump, bruise, or even a scratch on me. I should be celebrating. I could have been dead, or hurt badly, or worse have injured someone else. Despite my best efforts, I cried almost the entire ride back to his place. I was shaken. But I didn’t want to be. I wanted to be strong. I wanted to be what I thought I should be: a “strong” man. I was doing all I could to suppress my feelings.
All of this got me thinking: why do we as a society, specifically as men, believe we can not or should not show feelings? Why do we see vulnerability as a weakness? Why do we deny our humanity by suppressing our feelings and vulnerability? We can pretend all we want that we are strong and invulnerable, but the reality is if you love anyone, you are vulnerable. If you have a spouse, kids, friends, anyone you care about, you are vulnerable, since all those things can be taken from you.
What’s amazing is vulnerability is the opposite of what we think. As I pushed back tears and was afraid to say I wasn’t ok, I really could see that being vulnerable takes guts. It takes courage and bravery to feel human, to admit that we can’t do and be and handle every single thing. And that’s not weak...it’s human.
After the accident I texted people that I had been with earlier that day, as well as other friends. Faster than I could have ever imagined, love in the form of texts, phone calls, and voicemails started pouring in. Even people I hadn’t told started messaging and calling. People who knew people who knew me were reaching out. Everyone was concerned. Everyone cared.
I was overwhelmed.
It was too much love.
Too much acknowledgment.
And that’s weird right?
Too much love?
Too much appreciation?
Every time I got a new message, heard a new voice on the phone asking me how I was, or telling me how important I was to them, or that they were so happy I was ok… I started to cry again.
And that’s when I realized I couldn’t handle, “be” with, all the love. I couldn’t be with all the affirmation. I couldn’t be with what I mean to others, how important I am to them and the impact I’ve had on their lives.
But why couldn’t I believe it? What made it so hard to hear?
As a coach and a man with a commitment to grow, to become more and more connected with heart, love, and vulnerability, I had to examine myself. What I found brought even more emotion and vulnerability.
I don’t feel the same way about myself. I simply don’t love myself that much. I don’t think I’m that important. I don’t think I’m that valuable.
And there’s a part of me that doesn’t want to. There’s a part that says, “It’s not smart to love. It’s not smart to be vulnerable. It’s not smart to open your heart and let people in.”
Because love is scary. Love is heartbreak. Love is disappointment. Love is vulnerability. Love is dangerous. Love is a burden.
If I give that much love, then it’s forever expected of me. Hearing how important and impactful I am makes me think that now I have to live up to that standard all the time or else I’ll be in jeopardy of losing the love. If I open myself to show that much love or emotion I have to keep doing it. If I let people love me I have to keep doing the things that them feel that way.
That’s way to much fucking pressure! No thank you!
But guess what? That’s not how love works. You don’t have to earn love. You don’t have to be anything to get it either. You do have to make a choice to be open to receiving and giving it.
Love is so powerful. It has the power to crush us and yet it also has the power to let us fly.
There is a great fable about Porcupines:
“It was the coldest winter ever. Many animals died because of the cold. The porcupines, realizing the situation, decided to group together to keep warm. This way they covered and protected themselves; but the quills of each one wounded their closest companions. After a while, they decided to distance themselves one from the other and they began to die, alone and frozen. So they had to make a choice: either accept the quills of their companions or disappear from the Earth. Wisely, they decided to go back to being together. They learned to live with the little wounds caused by the close relationship with their companions in order to receive the warmth that came from the others. This way they were able to survive."
As men when we aren’t vulnerable, when we don’t let ourselves open up to be hurt, to be crushed, to be heartbroken, we keep ourselves separate. While we don’t necessarily “die,” our lives are muted, muffled, or dimmed. Our lives are black and white. When we shield our love, we dampen our emotions. When we hold back our feelings and fear and avoid being with all these human emotions and experiences, we dim our life and our soul.
I was really good keeping myself distant. Distant is safe; I don’t get hurt. But distant is also alone. Distant has us angry at our neighbors, unable to show love or compassion to those that don’t look like us. Distant makes us indifferent about people in war torn countries and those starving and homeless here at home. Distant made people see me crash and keep driving. Distant made me not able to ask for help from my bother and not let the natural flow of human emotions out. Distant made me unable to feel and accept love. Distant made me not even able to love myself.
As the calls and texts continued rolling in I started to feel an energy and power that was flowing to me that I didn’t know how to handle. I was scared and out of my comfort zone. The energy of that moment matched the fear and excitement of standing on the edge an airplane about skydive. Fear mixed with excitement-when you let go, you get freedom, peace, exhilaration, and feel life on higher level. We don’t have to do extreme sports to feel that, we can do the extreme and scary thing of letting love in. Giving and getting love. As Ram Das says, “Just love everything.” When we submit to feeling and experiencing emotions-love, joy, vulnerability, fear, and sadness we are free and can finally live life in full color!