The cafeteria was dark. As the lights were turned on, lighting one segment of the cafeteria and then another, the 5th graders rose noisily from their chairs. Tears streamed down my face. In my naiveté, I let them continue and eventually they dripped off my jaw to create dark dots on my shirt. We filed out of each row, waiting as the other kids formed a line to leave through the double doors. Teachers stood by each side of the exit, generally uninterested in the orderly proceeding until one teacher’s head rebounded from its automatic path so she could get a better look at me. I think that was the first time I realized others noticed my weeping. Why did the school pick Old Yeller as a school-wide movie anyway?
Shortly afterward I received frequent comments that indicated I cried “too easily.” Though the statements were meant more as observations, they were delivered with a sense of bewilderment and teasing showing my tearfulness was atypical. While I’ve never been able to prevent myself from crying, I certainly changed my lifestyle–whether in front of others or even alone–to avoid being the crier.
Sad movie? Definitely not! Sad book? Nope! Drama with the death of a beloved or young character? Unh-unh. While one may be able to stop oneself from feeling strongly, I did not want to mute my feelings, thus I avoided. No such melancholy-inducing media for me. It was not just because of the blotchy face and smeared mascara, though waterproof mascara is my good friend. I am still embarrassed to have people look at me curiously because of my unusual reaction. Especially when watching Bobby Brady get paralyzed in a car accident in a rerun of a TV movie reunion of a 30 year-old show can make me cry as an adult. Despair is also not a feeling I want to voluntarily experience as entertainment.
However, it’s not just sadness that turns on the waterworks. Feeling overwhelmed, amazed, happy, bittersweet, contemplative, regretful, or impressed, in some circumstances, can leave me with sentiment leaking out of my eyes. I am the person crying at weddings. Having children means I am often emotional in public. First anything? Tears! Recitals, school performances, even school projects like science fairs. My child is performing in chorus with the entire class and my vision becomes so blurry I don’t know if I’m taking the video properly because I can’t see.
While I am very self-conscious about continuously wiping at my face and having shaky video during moments other parents easily handle with more grace, I have recognized being able to immerse myself so fully into otherwise conventional occurrences is also fortunate. I don’t see beauty, I am steeped in it–experience it as if my every sense is as stimulated as much as my sight; to feel, not just in my head or heart, but with the whole of my being. I can hardly believe I don’t affect the very atmosphere around me. I am always a little shocked when I am happy and look in the mirror to see regular, old me. I think I should be glowing! It only seems fair–if my feelings are so immense that I can’t contain them when they involve tears, they should be equally as overflowing with joy. Though I think my husband would say they are overflowing–out of my mouth through excessive talking!
When my daughter saw an adorable chipmunk meet his end at the paws of our beloved and carnivorous kitty, I understood her heaving sobs well. And I hugged her and could say I truly understood and let her have the experience of her deep grief. I feel some success as a parent when, years later, she told me she was reading a book in class and said, unabashedly, that she was so affected by it that she sat in her high school classroom, in front of her peers, with tears streaming down her face openly, unashamed, and accepting of being moved so deeply.