Crying is the other side of the wall. We paint our walls, put murals on them, fresco them, wallpaper them, pretend they are solid and that we are safe on the pretty side.
I no longer cry. It is not a blessing. It is, I believe, a kind of malady of my psyche. Instead of crying at yet another body blow–the slaughter of friends and lovers celebrating in a bar in Orlando, the drowning of families and children in the Mediterranean Sea, or the smug entrenched immorality of Congresspeople voting against gun control, or any other routine daily cataclysm–I stand and absorb, let it hit the soft organs beneath my ribs, my heart, lungs, and stomach.
The cows from my Iowa childhood did that. They stood in cold pelting rain, heads down, absorbing the blows, even of sleet and hail. They gathered in a circle, heads in the center, and waited it out.
I am the elephant mother that lost her baby. I am not the baby that lost her mother. That is panic, confusion, bafflement, devastation. I am the mother who knows she may have another baby, who knows what dying is, who knows the cycle of birth, being, dying, and who knows the importance of continuing even through grief.
It worries me that I cannot cry. Rationally, I know crying is natural and a relief, a cleansing of priorities, a showing to yourself of what matters to you if you did not already know.
Because I do not cry does not mean I don’t feel. It means that if I begin, I do not know when the sobbing will end. Grief could knock the feet out from underneath me, deplete me, break my heart. It could take weeks to recover.
I am not alone in this. Perhaps you and I are the same. I believe many of us are the same, feeling pain but losing faith in the value of crying yet again, or afraid to start. Crying is the other side of the wall. We paint our walls, put murals on them, fresco them, wallpaper them, pretend they are solid and that we are safe on the pretty side.
Perhaps like you, I fear crying could leave me vulnerable. Blurry-eyed and exposed, could I protect myself or others from continuing harm? Am I not counted on to rise to the occasion? Get the others out? Be a pillar during chaos? Signal a colleague I’m with them when they are frightened or when they are brave. Be the sanctuary?
Why doesn’t President Obama have these fears? He stands there, truly exposed. A mensch with tears on his cheeks. I stare at him and my definition of bravery changes right then and there. I understand I have a weakness, not that of crying but that of not crying.
Yet, I cannot.
That is not completely true. Tears stung my eyes three times in the last year, each when I thought of women I know, or do not know, who are truly suffering and I can do nothing to help. A Syrian friend made three attempts to cross the Mediterranean to Greece before she made it and then she walked most of the rest of the way to Amsterdam to make a future for her teenage daughters who will follow. A mother in Orlando spoke of her beloved son among the dead. A Palestinian student (on video) was shot until dead in Israel because she had a knife and was as dangerous as a butterfly.
Yes, it is for the women my eyes sting. I don’t know all the reasons why but it contains the element that I know how to help these women, how to hold them, how to stand up to their oppressors, how to listen to them and sometimes give them words for their pain. This is not hubris, it is the knowing of how I work in crises and of my experience of more than a decade with women around the world. I could help them if I were there, but I am not. I cannot hold them, I cannot make the world change enough for them soon enough.
I did help earlier with women in Palestine, Afghanistan, Burundi, Turkey, Argentina, Bosnia, Israel, and more. I let them cry and reveal horrors and find their way back to plans and hope. I absorbed their body blows and did not cry then because they needed me not to cry. They needed me as a witness.
Now I need to witness flowers, and friends, and poetry, and fortitude, kindness, and joy. I need my grandchildren’s laughter, jokes, and questions. I need to know good people come together and nudge each other to act upon their goodness. I need us. I NEED US. I need to cry at beauty if I cannot at hate and violence.
I need to cry in gratefulness that you exist, and I write all of this for you so we become more aware of if we cry or not, and how that affects us, our actions, perceptions, attitudes, and happiness.
I may cry now. Or next week. Or perhaps the next.