A Man Navigates a Quarantine
The heart is an interesting place. I think about how I, as a man, can engage my heart while still being a professional, a friend, a warrior, a lover, among many of the other roles I play. I wrestle in the balance of “is it always the time and place for this?” I’m realizing I’m less of a rare breed than I thought and there are men of all walks of life who know how to demonstrate this and who teach me so much. I’m learning that maybe I can play less of a part in response to any invisible or imaginary expectations.
I’ve written a lot about the heart but revealed very little of my own if that makes any sense. So let’s change a bit.
Sheltering in Place has been a teacher of teachers. As a young man, I had dreams of leaving it all, and joining the monastic life. Even with growing certainties of agnosticism, I still fantasized about the desert life, living in community with bearded dudes in black gowns, enjoying solitude and the occasional jackal. Some may remember my dreams of having a cave of my own with a pet camel/roommate named Jake. I read stories about how solitude often would drive some of the monks absolutely batshit crazy, and I assumed the introvert that I am would relish at the opportunity. Jokes on them, I got this on lock! And when things get tough, I could chant a little, what’s the big deal?
Enter March 2020, when I experienced the last hug I would feel for about 3 months, and there’s still no end in sight. In the first month, I contained a mix of extreme fear for the world, and feeling shamefully at ease, not having to respond to social calls, not having to shave, and not having to wear pants that didn’t have an elastic waistband, or any pants at all for that matter. I found myself wondering if this was actually real? The lack of human contact went from gift to an absolute nightmare.
I chose to go through a lot of this particular struggle solo, not because I didn’t have the support nor the option to lean on anyone, but rather, something in me needed to know to what extent I could trust myself. That I could be enough for myself, through some of the toughest scenarios. After days and even weeks of doubt, I found out that was absolutely true. I wonder if all people go through this at sometime in their life. Was I a late bloomer? Was I an anomaly? Was I nothing special? I have no idea. I’ve always been pretty independent, but this was a whole different animal.
And so while I went through this struggle in solitude, I was not alone. I’ve had the gift of some friends I’ve let in along the way, enough for a a solid boost until I got to the next valley. And there’s a strong but subtle difference between “I don’t need anyone”, versus: “I need to see what I’m made of.”
So I find myself entering a new era of self-reliance, but not the kind that has isolated me in the past. In fact, I find myself experiencing an even greater intimacy with people in my life. I am shedding this belief that I’m an island. While at the same time finding more comfort and grounding in my own skin, away from distractions. It’s a daily remembering and a daily practice, which I often fail at, but I have my north star pretty well defined.
But there was another healing moment during this time, when I began understanding that I’ve internalized so much of the toxic masculine culture. And I don’t mean the version of this that is outright aggressive and bullying. That isn’t me. But, I’ve internalized so much of the more subtle versions of this: “Boys don’t cry”, “You can’t trust anyone but yourself”, “Guys don’t hug, not without a very strong back slap”, “Don’t show weakness”. The aggression and bullying goes inwards, and I don’t know a single man who hasn’t been vulnerable to this at one point or another.
Even as men, with experiences, challenges, battle scars, there’s an unspoken pressure in many circles to hide the heart. In many of our vocations we need to put feelings aside to get the job done, and many times that is what’s required… in that moment. But do we have space in our lives to bring the heart back, and to give it air, or do we suffocate it because we are afraid of what it has to say? Do we have safe places and most importantly, people, with whom we can share it? As a young man, I thought there were certain things that must be left behind as I got older. I’m now learning that the older we get, the more important these things are: creating, playing, and feeling… passionately: in the presence of ourselves and with others. Are we afraid of our own hearts as well as we own our toughness? .
I believe some of the greatest adventures ahead, come right after the discomfort of not just allowing, but in hearing it speak for the first time in a while.