I sat in the large cafeteria, teetering on the edge of a folding chair along with rows of other teeth-clenched parents as we helplessly witnessed our twitchy offspring entrenched in the prime time drama of a grade school spelling bee. A heady smell of meatloaf permeated the air. My 8-year-old son, who now stood at the microphone for his turn at spelling stardom, had been practicing for weeks; the only other thing he’d ever focused so diligently on before this event was coming up with the mother of all Chanukah toy wish lists.
But even after he eventually misspelled a word and humbly took his seat, I still felt wracked with wild nerves. Forget butterflies in the stomach! What I had was a dire case of Godzilla bitchslapping Mothra in my gut. I quickly caught sight of the bathroom with the word GIRLS and the quaint, skirted figure underneath. A ferocious growl gurgled from the deep depths of my gut. I half-expected the moderator to suddenly give me a few words to spice up the competition. Can Mommy spell Irritable Bowel Syndrome?
The anxiety worsened every time a child lost a chance at the winner’s golden trophy. Andy Warhol said everybody gets their 15 minutes of fame, but these poor spelling bee suckers were as done as a basted Thanksgiving turkey. My heart burst with empathy for these young dictionary gladiators. I fully expected I’d break the silence with soap opera-worthy sobs that any second now would echo off a hundred metal lunch trays.
Finally, the suspense was almost over. The spelling bee had been whittled down to two sweet boys, grinning from ear to ear poking out of identical bowl cuts approved by mom’s with kitchen scissors the world over. I gaped upon them, barely keeping a poker face. Oh my God! How do people DO this? What are we? Spelling enablers? How can we all just sit here and clap?
At last one competitor stumbled over a few pesky vowels and consonants and with that, a winner was born. Second place graciously shook hands with first and didn’t even sniffle or wipe a tear he could convincingly blame on seasonal allergies. I’m glad everyone was all Pollyanna about it, ’cause I was hella ready to rush the stage and bury the losing boy’s face in my heaving bosom. You see, I wear my heart on my sleeve now, and occasionally- well who am I kidding- all the time- it spills out of my baby blues in copious, unabashed tears.
But not then. And why not?
Trails of Tears
Maybe my not crying then all started when I was a kid. My dad’s go-to response when any one of his four children started wailing over some mini-unconstitutional injustice? “Stop that cryin’ or I’ll give ya somethin’ to cry about!” Usually that did the trick and shut us up. But now I reminisce and wonder why. Was it instant shame or guilt that freeze-dried all those melodramatic tears? And who was the appointed judge who could deem our sorrows unworthy of complaint via a rowdy cry-fest?
Is weeping selfish? A waste of good life? No! Everybody bawls, everywhere. Humankind’s trail of tears stretches from outer space, to Washington DC, from parched crops to suburbia. Spend one hour at any Disneyland theme park and you’ll see more beet-faced kids screaming in endless lines than Mickey Mouse has fingers (including middle ones!). In fact, the same parents who must claim those crying kids are likely using tremendous amounts of energy just to simply blink away the threatening onslaughts of their own ugly cries. As moms and dads wrestle with their demon-possessed kids’ full-blown tantrums, they fantasize about the cold rum glistening in the hotel room’s mini bar and the warm bed awaiting them with turned down crisp linens from the attentive maid. A little free HBO cures most woes.
But even Noah and his humongous, DIY- envy of all on Pintrest- ark wouldn’t have been able to handle the weather of history’s epic wave of accumulated tears. All humans from Jesus to gods and goddesses to Buddha have lost their shit- and rightfully so! Who would have had the chutzpah to tell them they had no business feeling bummed? Innocent civilians weep as they work through the wreckage of their lives warring nations have brought to their front door. Soldiers on both sides of these battles suffer PTSD nightmares and wake in terrified tears at what they’ve witnessed. Surely, they don’t need to be given something to cry about?
Truth is, no scale exists for weighing a person’s right to weep. If it feels real, that should be enough. No apologies necessary. No explanations needed. And maybe you’ll get over it, at your own pace; then again, maybe not. And why not let the wails rip, and take it a step further: Allow the flow from your unblocked tear ducts to remain on your cheeks. Feel them glisten and then dry in streaks under the warmth of broad daylight. Resist the urge to grab a tissue or even to use a shirtsleeve.
Seconds after your mother’s womb birthed you, you were encouraged to cry. At the start, that first barbaric newborn yawp was a sign of health. And now if you have strong lungs and all circulation pathways open, your orchestral vocal chords are still tuned and ready for the conductor’s cue. The only difference now is that you can call the shots for if – and when – your tears fall.
Today’s world demands you to get hardened to its rough ways, to crust over the gorgeous, glittering geode of your soul with barnacled rock. But what if you refused to let that happen? What if you became softer instead? You wouldn’t die in that moment. The world wouldn’t end because you allowed yourself a little release. You can build your own wailing walls – because you know best when to demolish them.
That’s the best holistic advice I think anyone can give you. It’ll even work with a placebo! Whether you’re at the movies and it’s the hero’s tear-jerking death scene, or if you’re on the last page of a gripping novel, why not go ahead- and sob like a wounded banshee? When it’s Ladies Night and your drunk friend trips in her stilettos and falls smack dab in the crosswalk, laugh ’till you howl, let your tear stream full force and smear mascara in its wake. After a bitter break-up and afterwards a revelation that you can love again- you WILL- because it’s your right – you’ll proudly weep.
Always be the only one to “give yourself something to cry about,” and beware of others who believe they can wield that power for you. When at last you run out of time and teary opportunities, you can be sure that there – on your deathbed – you’ve lived a life well cried.
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This post was published originally on Hormones Matter in November 2015.