In our darkest hours, it is important to have an emergency support system, and though it can be hard, sometimes we need to be able to let go of our pride and let in those closest to us.
The 3 a.m. Card.
Everyone should have one.
Ironically, the people that are more likely to have ‘em are those in 12-step programs. The regular Joes tend not to even know what it is as we live in a country that has made an art form of de-humanized, disconnected isolation. As someone recently said on Twitter: “I am debating whether I should stop following strangers on Twitter, but isn’t that the whole point?” Friends with everybody and nobody is your friend. Men are most likely to be absent a 3 a.m. card.
It is nothing less than the unspoken code between the closest of close that no mater what time of day or night, even if it is 3AM, you can call on one another. Or as a buddy of mine recently coined it, “It’s the friend you call when you need to bury a body in the middle of the night.” It’s like a personal Bat Signal. Oh that it could only be something as cool as a spotlight that I could flash with a “3 a.m.” and they would slide down their hidden poles, into rocket powered black behemoths (the current day SUV) to screech at my front door, beer in hand. But text messaging and email comes in a close second, even if it lacks the flair.
You might ask: Under what circumstances would some one use such a powerful device?
It tends to be in dire circumstance that it is used the most. What defines dire for a particular circumstance depends on the individual. One of my close friends, Michael, once summoned me via secret red telephone when his wife was at work. He was running such a high fever he no longer had any idea the location of his children. It wasn’t 3 a.m., more like 4 p.m., but when I got to his house, the door was open with kids coming and going like ants on a hill while he was curled up in his daughter’s bed in a haze of fever and dehydration, next to a half eaten Egg McMuffin. I took note of his vitals, then asked him what exactly his children were supposed to be doing and if they had eaten? His sense of time was lost so he had no idea. I spent the next few hours playing Mr. Mom, cooking dinner for the three little tornadoes, and making sure dad hadn’t passed out. Eventually, his wife got home and after small talk I was off.
I’ve also had to call in the card. I was in a place in life with so many moving pieces I was trying to navigate—as if my whole landscape was in flux inside and out—and I simply knew that I had nothing left in me to keep at it. Not so much gun-to-the-head but at the end of my rope. If I were an alcoholic I would have cashed in my sobriety chip and drowned myself in drinks.
There are times in life when we can no longer see how to move forward and need friends to be our eyes and ears, or simply say, “No, you are not crazy. This is where you are supposed to be.” Actually, 99% of the time it is the “you’re not crazy” answer. I am pretty aware of where I am in the journey, but I need other men to remind me that I haven’t gone around the bend along the way.
So I picked up the bat phone. We grabbed some beer and met at a quiet place wherein they walked through my story with me. They listened to the long lament and confusion. Nothing necessarily was solved, but things were less messy, and I came home knowing I wasn’t alone on the journey.
It’s not limited to the guys. Once one of the wives pulled the card. Another close friend, Jeff, had a huge fight with his wife, and it was bad enough that she told him to give us a call. I got the rally message from Michael: “Jeff’s at my house. They had a fight. Come as soon as you can.” As I was running errands nearby, I turned the car around and headed straight to Mike’s house. Walking in, I saw Jeff sitting in a pensive state at the foot of a couch with a mark on his cheek. He was explaining how the fight went down. I half-jokingly asked, “Did she hit you with a ring on?” (They were both martial arts experts and I knew the fight easily could look like something out of “Mr. and Mrs. Smith.”) He responded with a laugh saying, “Yep. I was hoping you wouldn’t notice that.” Then the hard questions came from each of us, digging into what was behind the anger.
Most men default to anger because they don’t know how to feel sad or grieve. While there were two people in that fight and plenty of complexities therein, Jeff’s anger actually had to do with an event from his childhood that was earth shattering. It was a moment when his dad put him in a highly pressured, inappropriate position to make decisions for his mother that Jeff was far too young to navigate. It turned out that he had never told anyone about it, until then. For Jeff, when big decisions are on the table, and his wife pressures him, his anger rises to cover over the panic and fear of failure to make to right call. It gave us context and him an “ah-ha” moment. Nowhere in the conversation did we condemn or accuse. How could we? We knew it could just as well be ourselves in a similar position, letting our wounds and shadows get the better of our light.
What makes for such an elite response team? Funny enough, it is usually only a few—two maybe three people—in any given space. Contrary to Facebook Friend quotas—which are usually made up of acquaintances, re-connected childhood friends, and then a few close people—intimacy and 3 a.m. cards are found amidst small numbers. It isn’t human to have tons of close friends. (Even the phrase “tons of close friends” is an oxymoron.) There is nothing wrong with plenty of friends, but let’s face it, of them all, who can you play a 3 a.m. card and know they’ve got your back?
One of the signature qualities in such a crew is Trust—in their mental/emotional/spiritual health, their sense of self, etc. There is tremendous freedom when I can put it all on the table and know that no one in the room is going to be threatened by what I say, react with the need to give answers because they need to fulfill some latent family dynamic from their childhood or quietly stew in resentment and anger only to hit me over the head with it months down the road. Judgment and Guilt are not congruent with Trust and Grace. There is safety in healthy people, in those small numbers. And the in the right company there is a good kind of danger too.
The 3 a.m. card.
Everybody should have one.
What’s in your wallet?
Photo: Aldo Cauchi Savona/Flickr