The Eskimos have over 50 different names for snow. We have barely a handful, (unless you include expletives). And up until about 40 years ago, if your mom went to the A&P to buy mushrooms, her choice was either whole or sliced. Fortunately, things have changed with mushrooms. And yet, when the subject of CRYING comes up (which is almost never) the subject quickly morphs into something palatable. Someone says, “Well, my mom died,” and we all nod sadly.
And, if your quick-answer to what crying is seems a bit simplistic, such as: “It’s when tears run down your face,” you’re in good company. For men, it borders on being a taboo subject. We haven’t been given any alternatives…at all. It’s all lumped in together. Though I’m seriously tempted, I’m not going to try to invent names for the different types of crying. Maybe some of you readers can help with that (?) For now, let’s look a little deeper into a topic which we all turn away from, particularly we men.
Men: This is one of the many ways in which men have missed out (at least in America) compared to other countries. Quite simply, in America crying implies weakness, lack of control and over-emotionality, all of which are undesirable traits. Our fathers, and I speak from experience, wanted nothing to do with sons crying…over anything. I think it just might have made them nervous because they weren’t allowed to cry either. “C’mon Timmy. Be a man. Your dog died, but that’s no reason to go boo-hoo.” Actually, it’s a really good reason to go boo-hoo. I can’t think of one much better. But, it’s part of….BECOMING A MAN. Push all those emotions down into a little box, then shut it fast and put a lock on it. Yeah, that’s a terrific idea.
Here’s a question. If you’re sitting there and you’re not actually breathing raggedly and sobbing…the tears are just quietly rolling down your cheeks, is that crying? If it is, I think it’s a good indicator that we need some new categories. Here’s an example: I’m sitting at a midnight Christmas service and a young girl gets up and sings Ave Maria…a cappella. Very soon, tears are trickling down my face yet it is not the same emotion as seeing one of my wonderful furry buddies dying in my arms. One breaks my heart. The other elevates me. Those are two different things, yet my body has only one response. And one word. If we can have fifty different mushrooms, we can spend a minute and a half thinking about one of our most profound emotions.
Strange thing about tears: If you’ve been reading for a few months you know (vaguely) that Pamela and I went through Hell this past year, only Hell doesn’t begin with an H…but a C. Objectively, what was interesting in retrospect was what happened to both of us. We both went into what could best be described as shock. No tears…none at all. Pamela’s and my mind went right to emergency mode…lock-down…zero room for mistakes, with nearly no emotion at all. No real laughing, no anger, no nothing. The day of the surgery it was particularly that way. I had hardened-up, locked-down, in anticipation of having to face what could be the end of both our lives. Hours went by and finally the surgeon beckoned me into the “quiet room,” the room that’s soundproof. Not a good sign. It seemed like he was taking forever. I remember technical jargon. Then he told me the outcome and I said, “…She’s going to live?” He said, “Yes,” and I just utterly lost it. When I came out, the people in the waiting room had gone ashen. They didn’t understand the tears.
Tears of Laughter: That’s hardly a word…more like a description. A couple of classic comedy skits come to mind. Comedy Series: Taxi. Reverend Jim is taking his driving test and needs some help. He whispers to his buddy. “What does a yellow light mean?” “Slow down.” “OK… What…..does….a….yellow…light…….Mean?” Hard to describe, but after two minutes you have either peed in your pants or are reaching for a tissue. I guess you can have happy pee, too? What do you call that?
Tears I Don’t Quite Understand… I can be in the middle of a party playing a rock playlist and having a ball. Yet, if that iPad hiccups and a Puccini aria comes on instead, I can be toast within 30 seconds. It’s not that I’m even sad. And I’m not melancholy. Yet those precise combinations of notes and timbre of voice open up even an unwilling mind. They pry open that tightly closed box that’s always locked inside our brains and all hell breaks loose. The same thing happens every time Pam and I watch Love Story. What exactly is that little box inside our brain that’s locked so tightly?
Do Animals Cry? Short answer: Yes, though I’ve never witnessed an animal weeping from pain or the loss of a limb. Strangely, it seems to be linked into their relationship with us. Gigi, my beautiful Boston terrier daughter, screwed-up one time…badly. I yelled at her, long and loud, which is rare for me. Ten minutes later, I noticed she was gone. Couldn’t find her anywhere. Finally, Pamela located her. Gigi was wedged behind the TV, facing the wall and shivering. She wouldn’t move, wouldn’t raise her head. She refused to look at me. When I picked her up, her eyes and fur beneath her eyes were drenched. She was crying. Yes, I learned a big lesson that day.
Tears from Pain: Yup, we definitely need some new words here. Tears from pain are in a category unto themselves. A while back, Pamela’s shingles flared up. Shingles, by the way, are a virus you get from having had chicken pox. It makes your nerves feel like hot electric needles are being pushed into you. For the record, Pamela did not weep during childbirth, though it was a tough labor lasting 18 hours. The shingles, however proved to be merciless. Why tears?
Tears/Crying and What Happens as We Grow up…or Just Get Older. Strangely, I didn’t cry a lot as a little kid. Pamela didn’t either, though we were fairly sensitive kids. I believe what we might have had in common was the knowledge that our crying wasn’t wanted, sometimes not even tolerated. I suspect that even babies eventually give up crying if no one attends them. They just give up and lie there.
And now? Now that I’m a big hairy, bearded guy with chest hair, hair on my toes…well, we’ll leave it at that… for all the life I’ve lived, it seems that some little dam or barrier that holds the tears back…got broken. I don’t know if that’s good or bad, though there isn’t much I can do about it.
A Devastating Fire: It was a Friday night. We’d just gone to bed. There was a strange WHUMP! and suddenly the windows in our bedroom flared to orange and yellow as if we were having a vivid sunset in the middle of the night.
The barn, 50 feet from our house was up-in-flames, 70…100-ft. flames. Pam called the fire department. I did my best getting our cars…and basset hounds out of the barn before it went. The damned bassets kept running back in and I’d have to go in again. Rafters falling, smoke everywhere…then my house starts smoking from the heat and threatening to go up. I’m there frantically trying to cool my house with the garden hose and getting “heat-burned” standing there. I figured we’d had it. It was a matter of another minute or two. And then…….the cavalry shows up only they’re driving long red trucks. Did I cry then? Strangely…no. I just got the hell out of their way. Kids, my son’s age, put out the fire. “We’ll take care of it now, Mr. Harvey.”
Twenty minutes later, some gals (the volunteer firemen’s wives) showed up with blankets, coffee and some kind words. One of them handed me a doughnut….and I utterly lost it. Why a doughnut? Why then? I don’t know. A decade later, believe it or not, it’s still very hard to write about. I don’t understand the process. But it looks like not a lot of other people do either. I think that tiny little box where we stuff it all down inside our brains just falls apart sometimes. If anyone has answers I’d gladly hear them.
Every little furry dog buddy that I’ve had the chance to live with in my life, has left a devastating final memory and many, many tears. And yet I treasure those tears, I wouldn’t have it any other way. When my father died, however, not one tear was shed. Oddly, it was the same with Pam and her dad. Maybe you have to feel loved to be able to cry?