Our bodies have their own wisdom, a wisdom that deserves our trust. Shedding tears is one tried and true way that the body repairs itself. What a gift all round if we can grow more comfortable with our own tears as well as those of others.
I know that this is so much easier said than done in our society. We have created the completely arbitrary viewpoint that crying is a sign of weakness, indicates an inability to cope, and proves a lack of self-control. We can get smart, however, and recognize the harm that we inflict on ourselves when we stifle tears and dismiss the flood of sensations that triggers them. Have you noticed the mighty effort required to fight the tear resting on your eyelid? Why is it so hard to combat tears? I think that it is because we are fighting against our better instincts. The body naturally seeks to release emotion, to break down the build-up of feelings and to let them go. In denying feeling and passion, we reject essential parts of ourselves. We become less real and more like the mannequin with glass bead "Tears" in Man Ray's photograph.
Years ago I laughed heartily at a friend's quandary as to how to spend her lazy Saturday afternoon: "I don't know whether to take a nap or have a good cry!" But I think of her often as, alone and in groups, new philosophers struggle against and apologize for their tears. Philosophical introspection and the resulting prospect of change can be daunting. At the opening of both of my books, I explain upfront that honest philosophizing can evoke strong feelings, and I assure my readers as I reassure my students that expressing emotion is more than all right; indeed, it is necessary. Ironically, what I am asking of them is that they not be afraid of their humanity.... This week a student appeared in my office shortly before class and, wiping a dangling sleeve across his eyes, he begged: "Ms. McCarty, if I start to cry in class, can I leave? This material is upsetting because it hits close to home." I gave him a rock from a collection I keep in the office for such occasions; and I told him that though he couldn't leave class, he could be sure that other students would empathize with his feelings even without sharing his background, as everyone experiences loss and heartache. We decided that he should honor the depth of his feelings. He did just that and he was very proud. After this same class, an overwhelmed divorced mother of two came to the office, shut the door, and her tears rained. Too much school, too much job, too much responsibility - of course she was crying! We planned her schedule for the rest of the semester, substituted napkins for Kleenex, and hugged a hopeful farewell. She had looked sick for weeks; since her tearfest she looks robust and confident. Not much changed; her body took over for awhile so that her mind and heart could take a power nap.
I have a very good friend who is an ultra-talented osteopath. His healing practice centers on the interconnectedness of body, mind, and spirit. If there is an imbalance, some dis-ease in one area, it affects everything. He treats the body as a self-regulating system; his manipulation of soft tissue allows the body to heal itself, to restore its integrity. He witnesses a lot of tears as the whole person comes together again.
What can explain this liquid release? In Tom Verducci's delightful interview with four members of the New York Yankees reported in the May 3 issue of Sports Illustrated, Derek Jeter admits that in his early years in the minor leagues, "I cried almost every day." Mariano Rivera and Jorge Posada recall tearful days as well. Who says there is no crying in baseball?! And for all his grace and talent on the tennis court, I think Roger Federer's sobs when he wins and occasionally when he suffers a tough loss best demonstrate his love for the game. Recently, a second grade teacher mesmerized her philosophy circle when she described her first day of dance class: swaying to the music and feeling so at home and at ease, suddenly soft tears surprised and relaxed her. Why? Who needs a reason to cry? And what do you prove when you don't? Haven't you laughed ‘til you cried? Laughter and tears are flip sides of one coin, twin outlets for raw emotion and two very human forms of self-expression.How much healthier can we all become if we allow tears to flow easily? Would there be less stress, less anxiety?
My mother often says that she could not have married a man who didn't cry. I grew up catching my father's wet eyes as they beheld beauty, during his absorption in tender moments, and in his empathy with another's pain. It was a great lesson. As a child I was so excited whenever my grandmother came to visit that, upon first hearing her voice in the kitchen, tears flew as I ran into her arms. She would swing me and we would laugh and cry and laugh some more. I keep these memories fresh so that tears can still befriend me. I try hard to remember their immense value.
What if weeping earned a good reputation? Will you give yourself permission to cry? Are you that cool?