Awhile back, I was catching up with some old friends over a meal and as I recounted several stories (from different times and different places) they recognised a common motif: tears. My tears.
Me crying as I: opened a box of 40 Birthday cards; heard the news of my boss moving on to a new job; sang a moving hymn in the company of hundreds; wrote an email to friends asking for help with a somewhat delicate matter; fell over on the main street and in the process of falling lost a McDonalds hamburger as it broke my fall (we couldn’t quite work out if it was the fall or the loss of the burger that had produced the tears). Finally, I recounted to my friends the saying of goodbyes to my boss the day before. Or, rather, how I tried to say goodbye. My throat was somewhat constricted.
My friends, understandably, enquired if I was in possession of unusually large tear ducts – and not in a tone that suggested this might be a good thing. You lose credibility if you cry too much. You lose much of your foundation and mascara also.
In the days before seeing my friends, I had been attending a conference with hundreds of others in a similar line of work to mine. I hadn’t expected to see many people I know. But I did. Even the ones I didn’t know all seemed to know my boss and that he was leaving – and they all had something to say.
So, though in my imagination I had seen myself attending this conference in a fairly anonymous capacity and therefore in an emotionally detached manner (a break from the emotions of the weeks leading up to that holiday), it seemed I was doomed to walk around with my emotions very much attached to my sleeve and trailing behind me in a mass of sodden tissues – well, at least a little bundle of them in the bottom of my handbag.
Tears are humiliating – mostly. Crying makes others feel awkward as they watch your eyes brim with tears and then spill over, running down your face, sometimes mingling with the contents of a running nose. Tears make a fool of you as they somehow cause a simultaneous constriction of your vocal chords, rendering you unable to speak clearly. If you do try to speak, the tears fight back with a counter-phenomenon otherwise known as ‘ugly crying’.
I’m fairly certain that in a petite, sweetly fragile looking girl, tears would look endearing and call for rescue and empathy. On the face of a woman with a larger, more robust frame – the kind of women that people ask for directions (I can only guess because they think I can see further?) – tears are a disappointment and look pathetic, weak and just a little ridiculous. Not to mention the fact that, because we larger women are taller, we can be seen from a greater distance as our tears fall.
I spent some time that week with a woman who was suffering grief from the loss of a loved one. She said she didn’t cry until she was alone in her room at night. Ironically, people thought she didn’t care – that she wasn’t really grieving because they couldn’t see her tears. Tears are required of us at times, but only at times when others deem it appropriate.
Mostly tears are just awkward.
And yet they speak words – even when they won’t allow our vocal chords to speak.
They say ‘Something or Someone is gone!’ or ‘Something’s not as it should be!’ or even ‘Something so lovely has just happened that it highlights, just a little, deep inside, the lack of lovely somethings at other times’.
We are moved – or at least I am – when we taste loss or the brief presence of something that’s normally absent. Longing spills from our eyes, often at the most inconvenient and, in my case, frequent and public times.
But I take comfort in the fact that I’m known and understood by a fellow weeper. Jesus wept as he saw grief, saw faith missing, and faced the prospect of death and separation. A death that would ensure a future for his (now) weeping followers – a future of no more crying, or grief, or pain.
As my tears fall these days, I try to remember that they speak, when my voice won’t, of a longing for a tearless eternity – where nothing good is lost.
Though I’m glad the need for tissues will be.