“Tears are words that need to be written.” –Paulo Coelho
Last weekend I attended my first virtual funeral. I don’t ever go to real funerals. It is just not my jam, for many reasons. However, this one had me especially intrigued, and since it was over Zoom, I figured that I could escape whenever I wanted. My commitment was minimal. I was drawn to this particular memorial not because I was so close with the deceased—indeed, we didn’t know each other well at all and hadn’t seen each other in years—but because of my sense of who he was (perhaps a kindred spirit) and the wide variety of lives I imagined that he had touched in his too-brief stay on this Earth. I knew that he was special, and I wanted to see how that presented itself in this final farewell. And honestly, I wanted a little more of him. I am sure we all did.
Throughout the service, which was designed to pack in as many different voices and testimonials as possible from the lives he touched along the way, I discovered a pattern in my emotional state: when the speaker was dry-eyed, I was dry-eyed; when the speaker cried, I cried. It never failed. Oh sure, I cried at a few other times, too, like when they showed a picture of him and my daughter when she was a baby or a picture of him and my wife smiling together. Those got me. But otherwise, it was a pretty safe bet that when I witnessed weeping, I wept.
I have come to know that pattern about myself over the years. When raw emotion is in front of me—especially crying but beyond that as well, even in Joy—I am an instant puddle. After studying myself through my journals for this long, I have come to chalk this characteristic up to the same Empathy that has shaped so much of my worldview, including my politics and spirituality. When I witness someone deep in feeling, it just seems to channel directly into my heart. I am powerfully moved in an instant. It can be a problem, but I mostly appreciate it. I like to be reminded occasionally that I have not hardened myself too much against this world that is so full of slings and arrows. I am still raw and affected. That is alright with me, especially the part of me that wants to remain an artist and a warrior for justice until the day I die. As long as I keep having authentic interactions with people and absorbing their genuine emotions, I am going to be a weeper.
But when else? Other than diving headlong into others’ drama, what are the other moments that get my tears going?
If you have been with Journal of You for a while—whether through these regular letters or just the book—you know that I spend a fair amount of time obsessing about Death and Legacy, the importance of my impact and what I will leave behind. I am so grateful that I have not yet had to face many deaths of those closest to me; I have always been lucky in that department. But it doesn’t stop my active imagination from running wild with images of that loss. I don’t mean scenes of graphic violence or horrific accidents; my mind does not go there. It does, however, go often to thoughts of learning of their loss or having the difficult conversations about life without them. I picture things like hearing about my child’s (or sister’s or mother’s) death or explaining my wife’s death to my children. Vivid scenes that sweep me away and leave me tear-stained.
Those daydreams, however, are nothing compared to the ones in which I am the one dying (usually of cancer) and have to communicate that with my wife and, even more often, my kids. Somehow, I seem to fall into this awful habit when I am driving alone. I think about making videos for them to watch when I am gone, on occasions like birthdays, graduations, or weddings, messages from their father who would be so proud of them and wish he were there. I make big speeches, often out loud in my car, by the end of which I am full-on sobbing, hardly able to see the road through my gushing eyes. By the time I realize what I am doing, I am practically panting in despair. It is embarrassing. It is that idea of leaving my family, though, that I simply cannot abide. That is a guaranteed tear-jerker.
Speaking of leaving my family, I am pretty quick to get weepy in saying goodbye to my parents and siblings after our too-infrequent visits. I try to fight it by rushing through the process, but by the time I hit the gas pedal to drive away, I am mush. Even though we all get frustrated with my Dad for doing it, sometimes I envy him for his habit of just sneaking off before the goodbye part of the visits. If we have gone to his house to stay for a holiday, he always manages to be “at work” when it comes time for us to leave town. If we meet up with him at the cabin and we are all planning to leave the same day, he gets up early and gets on the road before anyone realizes it is time to go. It’s pretty weasel-y, but at least he doesn’t have to face the emotion of goodbye. He leaves that for the rest of us, most of whom are pretty teary about it. I don’t really get that way with goodbyes with other people outside the family, but that is why family is family. It’s just deeper. I know I will be awful about it when my kids are grown.
I have a terrible time reading out loud, too, without crying. This happens with sad stories, of course. I still read to my daughter every night before bed, and it is highlight of my day, but I occasionally struggle to keep it together. I can laugh now at my attempts a few years ago to get through Where The Red Fern Grows with her, but it was a choking, teary mess at the time. Any sentimental message read aloud can get me, though, like a card or a Facebook post that I am sharing with my wife. It happens with my own writing, too, especially things about my feelings for loved ones. I sometimes read my work aloud to myself before publishing it, just to see if it flows, and I have definitely found myself in a puddle of tears on more than one occasion.
Likewise, I can envision wanting to say something at my parents’ funerals but just not being able to. I am one of those criers who simply cannot speak through the process. The emotion stabs me like a knife, and it’s like my air is just gone. I tried to say a few words about my grandfather during the visitation the night before his funeral, and it was a sobby, chokey, mostly silent mess.
Strangely, I have occasionally fancied the idea of being a television news reporter or anchor, probably a poor fit for a guy who cries when sharing almost any impactful story. It was more acceptable when I was studying to be an actor, which, now that I think of it, is probably how I fell into the habit of imagining all of those dramatic scenes I mentioned above that so regularly slay me in the car. I guess I am drawn to sharing the Truth of any situation—whether my own or of those whose stories need hearing—even if that sharing brings me to tears.
As I come to recognize that realization, I am reminded of my tendency to tear up—not sob, but just get “watery eyes”—in just about any direct, intimate conversation (typically one-on-one). I can recall so many conversations, especially ones concerning my loved ones or my own work—things like parent-teacher conferences and job interviews—when the eye-to-eye and the intimacy itself seems to draw the water involuntarily up to my eyes, even when seemingly inappropriate. As I said, it is not weeping in the usual sense—I am not breaking down emotionally in these otherwise-normal moments, just tearing up a bit (which can cause the normal to become slightly awkward, though people typically pretend not to notice). I chalk it up to sensitivity. I am a bit of a raw nerve, prone to really feel everything. It is just one of my idiosyncrasies. I roll with it.
I am not sure what it says about me, the things that bring me to tears and the regularity of them in my life. I tend to not judge it, not seeing it as either a particular strength or weakness. But is it? I kind of appreciate the cleansing nature of crying, but I don’t seek out opportunities for it (like I said, the dramatic driving scenes are not planned or even fully conscious, but rather just the result of getting swept up by my overactive imagination). I don’t have a strong desire to cry any more than I do now, though I would prefer not to have so much of the “watery eyes” in mundane, everyday conversations. I tend to see the source of my tears as an understanding of Love and the value of connection.
I also understand that I come at this topic as someone who is unusually blessed in my life circumstances and psychological make-up. I have been lucky all my life, with a healthy upbringing, a pleasant nuclear and extended family, always enough food on the table, with things I enjoy doing and people I enjoy spending time with (and, as I mentioned, I haven’t dealt with much death yet). My worldview is naturally optimistic, and I don’t struggle with anxiety or depression. I am resilient and self-confident, and I understand, thanks to my daily journaling, the minute details of what makes me tick. My mental health is in good shape. For all of these things, I am extremely lucky. I understand that if any one of them went the other way, my outlook on this topic of crying would likely be entirely different. I am grateful that most of my tears to this point have been healthy ones and from situations I could choose. I don’t ever cry because the world all seems too much for me, because I am stressed out or just can’t take one more thing working against me. I don’t cry because I hate my life or feel trapped or overburdened. I imagine those kinds of tears are pretty common in the world, and I know that Life still has many challenges remaining for me. A run of good luck doesn’t last forever.
This is part of why this topic is fascinating to me, and why I want to know your answer. It illustrates yet another way in which our stories are all different and thus why we need Empathy and Grace. Our tears, whether of Joy or Sadness or anything in between, reveal something special about us. No, reveal is the wrong word. Maybe indicate. The tears don’t tell the story. They merely indicate that there is something special worth digging into. Something deeper. Something worth the effort to understand and appreciate, because it is soul-level stuff, the kind that makes us who we are. For me, that means there is magic in those tears. The magic of our Truth. And I always, always, want to be a part of the Truth.
How about you? What always makes you cry? Open up your journal and your heart to explore the source and significance of those tears. What predictably makes you cry? Are your things specific events (e.g. a funeral, a break-up, a goodbye) or mental health-triggered issues (e.g. anxiety, depression, or the accumulation of Life just becoming too much sometimes)? What are the events that trigger you? Are they obviously heavy hitters, like death, or are they more subtle things? Who are the people usually associated with your tears? Has it been the same people all your life? How often are the these “people tears” due to how much you love them, and how often are they due to these people wronging you? Is that a healthy ratio? How do you do with goodbyes? What about books and movies (I’m a big movie crier)? Do you have any memories that always bring tears with them? Are those good memories or bad ones? How often do you cry tears of Joy? What other emotions make you cry? How often do ordinary, everyday life situations bring tears to your eyes? What kinds of conversations do it? Do you cry at the sight of others crying or suffering? How empathetic are you? Do you think your Empathy rating dictates how much you cry in response to others’ pain? Do you ever wonder about the source of your tears, their true trigger? What do your tears actually say about what is going on deep down inside you? Are they revealing of something you haven’t yet addressed and need to dig into? Do you need help with that? Do you believe your crying to be mostly a healthy sign, or a sign of problems? Do you usually feel better afterward? Do you wish you cried more often or less often? Which topics give you your best cries? Leave me a reply and let me know: What always brings tears to your eyes?
P.S. If today’s topic resonated with you, please share it. We could all use a release from time to time.
P.P.S. If this way of introspection appeals to you, consider buying my book, Journal of YOU: Uncovering The Beauty That Is Your Truth, at your favorite online retailers.