hands out of
let the water run,
is gone…”—CAAMP, “Of Love and Life”
I haven’t necessarily been counting, yet I know it’s been sixteen hours and thirteen minutes since I last cried.
In a way that feels like a lifetime, a lifeline, or an accomplishment, though I wouldn’t be particularly proud if any of those assessments were true.
This is something that made me weep recently:
Even when the dark comes crashing through,
when you need friend to carry you,
when you’re broken on the ground,
you will be found.
Yikes. If that’s not tears-worthy, what is?
I know I need a friend to carry me. Several, in fact. Every day, in fact.
Family and friends, the people we love most, are the ones we need now more than ever. These are bizarre, unnerving and often dark times. I can’t fathom not having family, not having friends, and when I think of those who are homeless and on their own, my heart breaks.
The other day on a Zoom call with my best friend, we began as we always do, by asking each other for a pulse check. When I asked how he was doing he said, “I’m better. I cried a lot this week, so that really helped.”
The inherent wisdom of his comment gave me pause–Crying helps. It doesn’t always acerbate or prolong misery. Sometimes it’s beneficial, and actually does the opposite. Sometimes it quite literally saves a person.
As I write this, it’s April 2020 and we’re currently in the throes of a pandemic. Some people, to help tamp down their fierce anxiety, have chosen to avoid the news altogether, which is a very effective strategy on the one hand. On the other hand, yesterday a person lost their life every two minutes to the virus in the state of New York alone. The world-wide death toll is not expected to slow anytime soon. Hundreds of thousands have died. Not numbers, people—mothers, daughters, doctors, steel-workers, lovers, poets. It’s tragic and horribly sad. Not crying about that, for me, would be akin to lying to myself. I’d be a fraud.
For decades or longer, it was considered a sign of weakness for men to cry. Shameful even. I didn’t see my father cry until I was forty. Didn’t see him cry at his own mother’s funeral. Didn’t see him cry during “Bryan’s Song” (the original) or “The Champ” in which an eight-year-old Ricky Schroder is so distraught and gutted he weeps for nearly two-thirds of the film. My father was a mechanic, a tough, stoic German who made a living with his hands. He wasn’t about to appear weak, or maybe he was trying to teach me how not to.
It didn’t work.
I cry freely, especially now that I’m older. I cry when I’m in the presence of beauty. I cry when I witness people suffering in any way. I’m a crier and I’m not ashamed of it.
In the old movie “Look Who’s Talking,” Kirstie Allie’s character is nine months pregnant when she sobs over a coffee commercial, explaining that the tug of hormones has essentially stripped her of an ability to keep her emotions in check. I’ve never been pregnant that I know of, yet I’ve cried over commercials many times. I cried when I saw this one, and still get choked up every time I watch it:
The way he loves and reveres Loretta’s memory is so precious and extraordinary that it makes my heart weep. It also makes me want to give him a standing ovation, which is what our family does whenever we are lucky enough to see a good film or hear a moving song. We stand up from wherever we are—in a restaurant, at the kitchen table, the sofa, the floor—and applaud art that rattles us, that reminds us we are human.
A best friend sent me this this the other day and it made me cry as well—weeping out of joy and gratitude:
Last year, Heather Christle’s newest release came out, an unconventional and brilliant meditation called ,“The Crying Book.” In it, Christle shares every moment in her life when she found herself crying, or when someone she was with wept. Christle examines the act of crying from almost every angle. It sounds like a maudlin book, but it’s not. It’s life unvarnished. It’s a way of pinpointing emotional stirrings, and then investigating their genesis. I have the book completely marked up, but here are just a few bits that I thought were especially smart and telling:
The length of the cry matters. I especially value an extended session, which gives me time to become curious, to look in the mirror, to observe my physical sadness. A truly powerful cry can withstand even this scientific activity.
If you cry in the car while it’s raining, it feels like the windshield wipers should tend to your face. Comfort words, comfort arms, comfort swipe.
Once I started to cry during sex, not about the sex, but rather the mawkish Belle and Sebastian playing on the stereo. People cry in response to art, most frequently to music. Poetry gets claimed second. People can even cry about architecture.
Some mornings I awake with an enormous sensation inside me and cannot identify whether the urge is to cry or write a poem or fuck someone.
The task is not to fall apart. The task is to remain.
Yes, when it comes to crying, the task is to remain. To survive. To be aware that you’re alive and that you fucking feel something, whether it’s joy or sadness. The task is to realize that it’s okay to react to what you’re feeling. In fact, to not respond would be merely postponing a colossal collapse of some sort at a later date, when the timing of said collapse could possibly be even worse.
Crying is a comfort. It’s a release. A form of celebration. A means of subverting trauma’s exponential potential. For some of us, it’s very necessary. Because ultimately, it’s not about the tears themselves. It’s about all the stuff lurking and welling up beneath them.