I really hate it when reality collides smack into the middle of my fantasy.
Perhaps there is no other place on earth that wreaks of more fantasy than Las Vegas—the city of illusion and lasciviousness; lust and prurience. Such indulgences are not a bad place to visit, though an awful place to live.
When I received the call Saturday night that my very own mother, always healthy in every way, lay sick in a Burbank hospital bed and slipping quickly, while I perched atop a bar stool in Vegas, my illusion was shattered. The anesthetizing alcohol in my system seemed to dissipate and I was reminded that for every fantasy comes a hardcore reality—for every joke a hard and fast truth. Life, after all, is constantly in tension.
Realizing that making the 4 hour drive the weekend before New Years while tired with a probably-over-the-limit BAC, I decided to wait until morning and drive straight to the hospital. My mother looked like I had never seen her. I was shaken to the core and felt the wiring in my brain begin to unravel as I both sat and paced, desperately working on my inner interface while trying to maintain my outward composure.
One never really knows the strength of one’s mental and emotional health until it is challenged and tested. In other words, please do not think you have your shit together if the deep shit in your life has never really truly hit the fan. Obviously mine had not.
It was a couple of days later that I met up with my friend Don at (where else?) the gym, my second home. After discussing our usual USC and NFL football, the oddities of our oldest sons, and nearly all things men of a certain age discuss, I told him what was happening with my mom.
He listened. He asked questions. Above all, he cared.
Don was a former Division I football running back. Do not let his 50-something age fool you; his 6-2, 220lb frame is not far from the condition of his prime and if you cross him just the right way, he would, scratch that, WILL kick your ass. Don is old school and not afraid to settle things as we did on the playground back in the day.
Like many men of this ilk, often our exteriors are not even close to the softness of our interiors. Many men feel very deeply, they often just forget for the heart to tell the face. I began to attempt to end the conversation when I found myself wading a bit too deep in the waters of the vulnerable psyche. Don said, “No, keep talking to me, you have got to get this stuff out and not leave it inside.”
And talk I did.
I left the gym, lodged myself in the cockpit of my muscle car and drove off to the hospital. I welled up as I reflected back on how concerned and kind Don was; how his words had the tenor of compassion and the inflection of empathy.
Don was loving.
I realized at that moment how many opportunities I have missed in my life. There is no greater gift we can give to each other than a moment of true and genuine care in our most vulnerable and weakened emotional moments. The gruff and simple football coach provided me with one of the greatest gifts I have received in my life and it did not include advice, bullshit platitudes or an obligatory, “you’re in my thoughts.”
He just cared. Really cared.
I made it to the hospital and found my mom to have improved a great deal—all signs pointing to a recovery.
It happens to be January 1, though whether it happened on March, July or November 1st, I still would resolve to give back the gift I received today of genuine care for my friends in their moments of greatest need.
And just as my Las Vegas fantasy turned in a moment of realistic crisis, today I realized a friend’s image, that fantasy we like to reflect to the world, was exposed in friend’s moment of need for real comfort.