“Heaven knows we need never be ashamed of our tears, for they rain upon the blinding dust of earth, overlying our hard hearts. I was better after I had cried than before — more sorry, more aware of my own ingratitude, more gentle.”
— Charles Dickens, Great Expectations–
I have a friend who can CRY! I mean she can really cry — the snot-blowing-spit-flowing-heart-palpitating-vein-showing kind of cry. Once I bet her she could not NOT cry. I won.
Another friend once told me I cry pretty. And still another, one who hailed from the Caribbean, waxed poetic about how pathetic the American cry is. “You don’t know how to wail, to gnash your teeth and make the world cry with you,” she admonished. “It’s just tragic.”
She’s right, of course. As soon as I feel my lip quivering, I pull it together, enough that only a tear or two might escape. They flow in neat little parallel lines down my face — more syrup from a maple tree than lava from a volcano.
I reason that it scares my kids to see me cry ugly.
This is partially true. One child has said as much. Truthfully, as much as I am open about my feelings, as much as I wear my heart on my verbal sleeve and encourage my kids to do the same, I am the one who is afraid to see me cry.
What if I swallow my own self in the acidity of such effusion? What if I reveal a vulnerability that betrays the mom warrior I believe protects and shields my children? What if I never emerge from the ardor?
I wasn’t always this way. As a kid I cried big in private, but not at all in public. As a teen, I loved to cry — on stage. It’s probably one of the things that drew me to acting. Like any good dramatic college student of the late 80’s, I cried in deference to Julia Roberts’ Steel Magnolias and Meryl Streep’s Silkwood. Only rocks and sociopaths didn’t cry when Meryl cried. When I became a pastor, though, I knew I would not be able to lose it in front of the people I was serving. That was their prerogative. I was there to comfort them, not shine a spotlight on my own sadness. This does not mean I never cried. I just never cried ugly.
Once my kids came and I was thrust into a state of adultness I had not previously imagined, I maintained my rather reserved cry.
The last few years have contained a lot of sadness for the world, for so many people we love, and for our family. I have worked hard to strike a balance between expressing strong emotions in a healthy manner and maintaining some composure.
Recently, though, a final piece of straw was placed on the camel’s back, which was already teetering precariously, and I lost it. I pummeled our dinner discussion through the blurred cacophony of a snot-blowing-spit-flowing-heart-palpitating-vein-showing kind of cry. Afterwards, as the kids stared at me in a perplexed sort of fog, the fear on their faces akin to bovine before slaughter, I thought to myself, “Why the hell have I not done that sooner?!”
Seriously, what is wrong with me? That kind of cry just does something to you. It might not solve the problem that caused it. It rips a hole in any argument we might try and concoct against the heaviness of the moment, though. It snaps our spirit right back into place, offering up an earthy balm for a jammed soul.
It is the cry we lose right before puberty. My youngest child still has it. It grates me when she cries that guttural cry. But now I get it. I get why she can cry ugly and then move quickly onto the next thing in her life, newly revived and cheerfully released. People like me, though, with our dainty little tears, feel the ugly and wallow in the ugly but work our hardest not to cry the ugly. The problem is that the ugly then sticks to our guts and we are weakened by it.
So here I am, a middle-aged woman who is working the ugly cry again. It neither swallows nor shatters me. On the contrary, it provides a vigorous massage to the very essence of my being, an ontological orgasm, if you will.
Like all things orgasmic, I highly recommend it.
A version of this post was originally published in my now defunct blog, In Lieu of a Midlife Crisis. That blog is being incorporated into this blog. You can find more posts here. This post has been revised since its original publication.