I love how this column I wrote a month ago teams so nicely with the poems I posted last week. I was thankful to have a friend staying with me while Jay traveled, because there is heaviness in writing hard things. She was a loving presence that kept me company as I read my words about losing friends to distance.
She listened with respect and intensity, letting me try the words aloud, never commenting on the meaning-obscuring fog in my voice. Then said the last thing I would have guessed.
“That sounds so sad [a word that I later realized I never actually used in the original article]. I’ve never known anything like that.”
I might have laughed (cheeks still tear-damp from reading). I hope I said, “I’m glad for you.” What I remember is being glad for the shift in me, to speak openly and let the tears fall without apology.
Tears really are a gift. And so are good, good friends.
In grade school, I read the book Bridge to Terabithia, a story that has been called a modern-day-classic by some, which basically means enough people were surprised by a book they discovered themselves that they insisted other people read it as well.
It is a story about loss. It was written by Katherine Paterson, in response to her son’s grief when he lost his best friend at a young age. I cried when I read that book.
I cried like I didn’t know I was allowed to. My mom did the right thing. She redirected my siblings, held them off. She let me cry.
But I couldn’t figure out why I was so sad. I thought this kind of emotional reaction was wrong. The story wasn’t real. The people I mourned with never existed. I didn’t understand this empathetic sadness, and it scared me.
From then on, I spent most of my conscious reading and movie-watching avoiding anything that might invoke a similarly intense response.
I forgot that I’d ever cried at a story. I prided myself at having a firm grasp on reality and separating myself from the sentimentality of those lumpy, leaky women who cried at weddings. Who cried even at movies with weddings in them.
Then, in 2006, fewer than three months after my youngest child was born, my dear-friend grandmother died.
Later that year I read The Thirteenth Tale, and I cried. I didn’t even identify that closely with much in the story, but I cried hard.
I began to consider that tears might not always be about exactly what started us crying.
Penelope Trunk, a career coach and blogger, once said something that I’ve co-opted in the paraphrase: “PMS is your body telling you to cry about the stuff you’ve been ignoring all month.”
This is beautiful and freeing because it starts by assigning value to the tears: the stressors that break us open, showing what’s inside, did not create the emotion in some mysterious alchemy. The reality has always been there.
Read the rest at wynmag.com