There’s a powerful quote that unexpectedly surfaced this morning as I quietly sobbed about the news of two more mass shootings within hours of each other: “There is a sacredness in tears. They are not a mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are the messengers of overwhelming grief, of deep contrition, and of unspeakable love…” ~Washington Irving~
While tears are literally a body fluid serving to cleanse and lubricate our eyes, more importantly, they are often formed by the crying associated with strong internal emotional responses. Modern culture is more forgiving of crying because of the known health and mental well-being benefits, but many cultures still consider crying undignified or even unacceptable forms of response. So why tears and tissues? Beyond the tragic news this morning, several recent situations have shed powerful personal light on the sacredness of tears.
We often joke in our family about the emotional responses evoked from advertising. Take those Hallmark commercials (“when you care enough to send the very best”) and most of their movies; they get us every single time. There are a couple of TV shows stimulating emotional responses because the characters are somehow living out our lives on the little screen. Daily news events, poetry, short stories, novels, magazine articles, cards, letters, emails, social media, and more…all can awaken and summon unexpected emotional responses through shared human connection.
These days, it’s quite unusual to see my dad cry anytime. His emotions and responses are fairly stagnant due to his advancing Alzheimer’s. He’s not easily moved to great JOY or deep sorrow because he takes most news and situations with little-to-no reaction (this is how I know he’s not really processing all life throws his way). Gratefully, his witty sense of humor and teasing are still intact, thus we can “spar” with one another on his good days. A couple of weeks ago, though, he had an emotional meltdown when the reality of my leaving on a short trip came to pass. I talked him through the plan with his white board, handed him tissues, hugged him up tight, and did my best to reassure him his “team” would be with him every step of the way in my absence. His favorite caregiver took over and I gingerly climbed into my vehicle to leave for the airport. It completely broke my heart to experience this surprising response from him, thus I quietly cried clear across the country on the plane until I fell asleep exhausted (sorry, lady in the seat next to me).
My family knows, in an ironic twist quite outside my comfort zone, I cry more now than ever before in my life. It’s not unusual for me to wipe tears of JOY or sadness on a daily basis. This new phenom entered my world exactly three weeks to the day after mom’s passing three years ago, when the reality of losing her physical being (long after losing her mental and emotional being from Alzheimer’s) finally surfaced in a powerful delayed response. I was quietly participating in the Anglican Evensong service at York Minster Cathedral in York, England. Our little group was sitting in the beautiful choral loft on the opposite side of the chorus and vicar leading worship. The dam of emotions suddenly broke and a profound flood of quiet but ugly, messy crying ensued. My traveling companions vividly recall the bizarre scene of continuing to sing the liturgical responses and helplessly scrambling to find just one tissue, a scarf, or anything to help me stop the continuous flow of fluids. Once the service ended and I managed to somewhat reign in my quiet sobs, the vicar approached our little group. He quietly handed me his personal handkerchief along with the invitation to walk with him. The two of us strolled leisurely along the magnificent handcrafted stone structure with its stunning collection of medieval stained glass, talking about loss and hope in this journey we call life. The vicar ended our conversation by gently reminding me how “shedding tears as Jesus did is a powerful emotional release when dealing with all this season of your life evokes; simply embrace and celebrate the process in all its forms…”
During a recent lunch with a friend of mine, we commented on the fact we’ve both cried enough tears in the past year to possibly resolve a saltwater shortage. (Fun fact: Research shows humans make 15 to 30 gallons of tears each year on a normal basis). Often times, and in both our cases, the physical aspect of our tears clears the way and helps us gracefully move forward in hope.
I have a wonderful friend who enthusiastically collects and carries bandannas with him each day. Because of him, I’m always on the lookout for unique designs to gift to him, knowing if I needed one at any time, he would have one for me. Yes; you guessed it; he recently gifted me with one, thus starting my own collection by emotional default.
So here’s hoping my friends, we remember to embrace the sacredness of our tears on our journeys…and please find a little comfort in knowing I’m making it a mission to have a tissue or bandanna ready to give you when your flood of tears flows. 🙂