What is Crying?

aaaa eskimoThe 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.


a  man-cryingMen:  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.

aaaaa choir shotHere’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.

doctor giving bad newsStrange 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.

aaaaa rev jim


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?

aaa dog cryingDo 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?

aaaa The legend of Painting the Crying BoyTears/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.

aaaa revised fireA 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?







11 Responses to "What is Crying?"

  1. Henry Harvey says:

    A sad tale, about you and Gigi. I might have thought it artistic license if not for a similar experience with a cat. I know cats don’t operate with a full deck of cards, as do dogs, but on some level they have the same effect on human emotions. The cat in question belonged to someone else in the family and was temporarily boarding with us in VA. We were actually very fond of the animal, but not so happy with its wake-up-the-house ritual every morning, about 5:00 am. On the one occasion I lost it, I had slept through the usual serenading, but didn’t sleep through the second half of the act … prowling over the pillows, then sitting on my head. I shot out of bed, yelled bloody murder, chased the cat downstairs. When we actually got up in the normal fashion an hour later, I asked Margie if she remembered spilling orange juice on the kitchen floor the night before. Then we saw the cat, still terrified, cowering behind a bookcase. I didn’t see any tears, but it took a day or two to revive its daft, purring, friendly disposition. Some serious remorse there, I can tell you – to have frightened an animal to point where it pees on the floor.
    Dick R.

  2. Henry Harvey says:

    Thank you for sharing, Dick. We tend to lump other creatures on the planet into a much lower echelon than ourselves. But I have never seen another creature on this planet engage in some of the atrocities that men engage in. Even a killer whale, cries and screams and goes insane upon the death of its baby. Our fellow partners on this planet deserve better treatment.

  3. Henry Harvey says:

    Lovely! I’m anxious to dig in deeper into this topic.

  4. Henry Harvey says:

    Thanks, Maranda.

    It’s almost a taboo topic, particularly for men. Maybe the topic needs to be opened up and aired a bit. Up till now, most of men’s emotions are something to be pushed down and ignored. ….that technique doesn’t seem to work all that well.

  5. Henry Harvey says:

    Crying is a release; a release of emotions – sad or happy.
    It gives our bodies and psyches a chance to deal with extraordinary events in our lives.
    Bless the tears.

    Mary Lou G

    • Henry Harvey says:

      Hello Mary Lou,
      Yup, no argument about it’s being a release, only that doesn’t really further our knowledge of the subject. Laughter is also a release, so it anger and screaming, so is sex, so is hitting a baseball out of the park. But that doesn’t narrow things down a whole lot.

  6. Henry Harvey says:

    I have just read this one and am sitting here rather chagrined and saddened that I failed to note that you recently went through a very serious, scary, gut-wrenching period of time and I wasn’t a voice of friendly support. Please accept my apology for being absent at a difficult time in your lives. Although we are not in constant contact, and we see each other only on occasion, you hold a very special place in my heart, and in my life, and my words are entirely inadequate to express how this news has affected me.

    Nan M.

    • Henry Harvey says:

      Hey Nan,

      Pamela and I both truly appreciate your empathy and kind words. Trouble is, when someone is truly under the gun, sometimes it’s impossible to open up and share the heavy heavy emotions with friends and loved ones. I think Pam and I just aren’t wired that way.


  7. Henry Harvey says:

    I have had my share of heaving sobs lately. The death of my beloved mother allowed all of us to cry with abandon in front of each other, not something that was typically done. Now the site, memory, smell or thought of my mother will bring any one of us six siblings and our children to heart wrenching wracks of pain. Crying, sobbing, bawling are the words that come to my mind when you ask for synonyms.

    At my mothers funeral I wracked with tears as her 98 year old “boyfriend” passed me in my pew on his way to receive communion. My husband had his arm around me and I just could not stop. My thoughts then were “how in the hell am I going to be able to deliver this eulogy” — I talked to her quietly before going to the lectern — she gave me the strength to get through all the beautiful words I had written. I was comforted by many after who commented on what they thought was one of the most the most wonderfully delivered eulogies they had heard.
    Beth L.

    So, crying — to me SOBBING is a better word, more descriptive as it FEELS like coming from the gut vs tears coming from your eyes.

  8. Henry Harvey says:

    Hello Beth,
    Yes, the words do have different connotations. Hard to pin them down, but it seems like bawling would be a word for almost out of control. Sobbing would seem to be somewhere in the middle, though I’m not sure even they pin down what’s in the mind for different types of sadness, pain, helplessness, misery.
    It’s still elusive to me.

  9. Debbie says:

    Little late to this prty but tears are definitley unwelcome most of the time, why? I despise crying, I feel completely out of control and that isn’t a good feeling for me. That being said, it’s the tears of joy and laughter I have learned to appreciate mostly due to my son and his friends. I treasure those moments. The worst may be tears of anger, just can’t stand it! I will become most uncontrolled if I become so angry that I cry. I will also never forget anyone who evokes that in me, heaven help them. Tears can also be cathartic and theraputic, ususally those tears are associated with “the ugly cry”. I do find it hard to deal with tears but I hope someday to learn to accept them for what they are. REAL.

Leave a Reply