My sister and I always joke that we cry the tears of other people. Meaning, we cry so much, we shed the tears others refuse to release. I cry over everything. Movies, the beauty of love and life, songs, even the Olympic commercials got to me this year. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been sitting on the subway, or at my swivel chair at work, when feelings of joy, happiness, gratitude or sadness overtake me and tears race, in a mad dash toward my jaw. I just hope nobody looks over at me, wondering if I’m experiencing some type of personal trauma. I never really thought much of crying until I started paying attention to how others responded to tears, theirs and my own.
In high school, my best friends and I went on a week-long college tour, via bus. We, along with 30 other high school kids, did everything together. We slept in the same hotels together, ate together, clowned together, some of us got into trouble together, and most importantly, we were encouraged to continue our education together. That one week seemed to stretch on for months and by the end of the journey, I genuinely felt like we were a type of extended family. As we were heading back to our hometown, one of our chaperones got up in the front of the bus and shared his thoughts on the experience, he encouraged us to get through high school and make our dreams of attending college a reality, he explained what he hoped each of us took away from the experience and he shared the love he felt for all of us. I became undone. I was literally sobbing, wiping mucus away from my nose, trying to control my breathing as I listened to his words. I was touched. My friend, who was sitting next to me on the bus, did her best to calm me down, offering me a teddy bear as the tears flowed. Later, she would tell me how my display completely freaked her out. She brought it up again just this week, actually, explaining just how uncomfortable that was for her, and that was over a decade ago.
Even my own parents have an interesting relationship with tears. When we were growing up, I remember my sister and I caught our mother crying once. Of course we promptly broke down, literally falling to the floor. My dad rushed to comfort us. In the midst of all of this, I noticed he gave my mother an exasperated, “get it together” look and she stopped instantaneously. We wouldn’t see that phenomenon until years later, when we were old enough to handle it. And even now on the rare occasions my mother does cry, she always recounts the incident with an “I got emotional.” To this day, I still ask her, “Why can’t you just say you cried?” I’m still waiting on a concrete answer.
I never even knew my dad had the capacity to cry until my grandmother passed away. And even when he did, he quickly wiped his tears away, I’m guessing so my mom, sister and I wouldn’t see them. I told my mom and sister later that even though it hurt to see my father like that, it also let me know that he was human, able to truly be hurt by life’s tragedies.
But they aren’t the only ones who struggle. This is what society teaches us. Remember when Hillary Clinton was running for president and she cried on the campaign trail back in 2008? That was a big deal. There were people claiming that her show of emotion might cost her the election. A woman visibly expressing her love for the country she was trying to lead was seen as a liability, in some cases making front page news.