Monday, April 9, 2012
For Crying Out Loud
I was a cry baby, my mother announced to anyone who would listen. That probably caused me to cry even more. I don’t know why I cried so much. Maybe I was feeling the pain of the dust bowl farmers or the rise of Nazism or maybe there was an open pin on my diapers. She also said I had chronic ear aches. That news sort of got me off the hook.
The fact is that I was late in controlling my lachrymal glands. I have memories of tears filling my eyes around age seven when someone would look at me for what seemed to be an elongated moment. It was as if they were seeing into the shambles of my mansion.
At some point I learned to control my tear ducts like the rest of my gender. Boys simply don’t cry though I do remember crying at a scene in the 1944 movie, The Sullivan Boys. Anne Baxter got a telegram that her husband was killed in the South Pacific. He is one of five brothers who perished on the same ship. I don’t know if I identified with her or the dead sailors.
I’m sure I must have cried over the decades. There was plenty to shed tears over. The next big cry I had, which stays vivid in my mind, was when my father died in 1976. I literally could not stop. My gush actually came a few days before when he had a stroke. I went to the pharmacy that day and found myself unable to hold back the tears.
Cataract surgery has returned me to my infancy. Since then I walk around some days wiping away tears. My post-op leaky eyes may just be the result of clogged ducts. The tears are not being reabsorbed as with normal people. I am now apt to get glassy eyed more easily. But I’m not talking about that nor am I referring to droplets evoked from laughter or handkerchiefs of happiness at weddings. I understand those are even different in chemical composition than the hormone-endorphin packed tears we usually associate with pain or sorrow.
When I try to recall what prompts my tears I know it isn’t so much sadness or even distress. It seems to be some sudden moment of empathy or bonding with a person most vulnerable; involuntary compassion. Not the bombing of a city but hurt or humiliation of an individual. It is an outpouring; a recognition of being caught emotionally naked.
Not having access to our tears may prove to be a more serious deficit than going through life as a cry baby. Picasso said it took him a lifetime to learn how to paint like a child. Maybe it takes that long to free our crying self from layers of inbitions. I can imagine having an emotionally intimate connection with a friend, which touches a nerve provoking tears that turn into laughter and back again.
On the other hand several friends, including Peggy, tell me that the tears no longer correspond with what they are feeling. Maybe dry tears are enough. If we cried for all the suffering in the world we might flood the planet.