MIA: my tears

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.

Air France Made Me Cry

johnny cash with speech text1


Reader Notice: Any lament about being stuck in Paris is, by definition, ridiculous. I know that.This is about being stuck away from people you love.



Air France made me cry. Not sob, not bawl my eyes out, but real tears, real “I can’t cope” tears. Since I long ago learned that “I can’t cope” tears have no traction in my world – maybe in others, but not in mine, never have – the tears stopped at the point where I said aloud, “Well, that’s really going to help, Patricia.”

Insomnia is no respecter of borders and sleeping only between 5:00 am and 9:00 am probably had something to do with my fragility, as did a desire to get home and hug my grandchildren, to dedicate my life to them as the most viable thing I’ve got going.

Yes, this is a somewhat hollow lament – I am in Paris, after all! – but loneliness is not ever hollow. I have a psychiatrist friend who was in the teams that “treated” Vietnamese boat people decades ago. She said they wanted to talk about the same things everyone else wants to talk about. Not the war, not loss of home, but the intricacies of love and caring and insecurities. Why should I be immune?

So when the email notice came from Air France canceling my flight 24 hours before scheduled takeoff, I was already flirting with self-pity. It was complex and went on and on about booking options and financial transactions, and it was in French without an English “click” button.

Now, I had known for two weeks that the Air France pilots were on a “soft” strike with some flights cancelled, which is why I kept checking to see that my flight was still on schedule. It was, up to that moment. I had packed.

Action time! Call the telephone number, get a real operator, tell her or him everything, get a new booking, and arrange a straight financial exchange. The first two tries didn’t get through at all and the third time I got the “Thank you for your patience, we will be with you shortly” recording – for 30 minutes, which is when I hung up at $1 per minute.

But had I been sitting around, helpless and waiting? No! I had been online in the race with phantom leagues of people who were also rebooking as fast as they could.

Stick with Air France rather than try in foreign languages to manage the finances. The strike is scheduled to be over in two days. Five seats left on the Wednesday flight, work fast, get that information in, choose a seat, click to confirm. Now!

. . . oh, oh . . . an air message. There is a technical difficulty and my reservation cannot be confirmed. Of course, there’s a technical difficulty! There are 500 plus people from my plane alone who are rebooking. No way those five seats will be left next time I try.

This is when being alone, being sleep deprived, and wanting your grandchildren to run to you with their arms open come together in a special way that creates a stinging sensation in your tear ducts.

It’s not about reservations and flights. It’s about being connected to others. It’s about being in the human family. It’s about being loved and giving love, being embraced and embracing, celebrating each other, and having someone bring you coffee while you’re trying to get home.

I made my own coffee and went back to try online again. My speakerphone was still saying “Thank you for your patience, we will be with you shortly.” But this time when I pulled up my reservation to change it, it said I was confirmed on a flight in two days. My earlier attempt had gone through.

I shut off my cell phone, dressed in black like Johnny Cash, told myself I was one tough cookie, and I went out to lunch – a poached egg over thin-sliced gently steamed peppers and corn for the first course and wild mushroom risotto for the second course.

I can cope for two more days.



Neither crone nor cougar

Humor has two homes – pain and happiness. Great happiness. Happiness that is secure to the point of silliness. But even that happiness has to have in it the spice of pain to give it tang. Otherwise it is Disney with plastic gravitas, angel food cake without strawberries, sensible shoes in brown, and blandness masquerading as naiveté.

IMG_1952The question is: when you are a woman of a certain age, what are you? Society is still figuring this out even as we women of that age are living it.

We are, in fact, changing the paradigm. We are no longer crones, though we have immense wisdom. Scary wisdom. Be afraid.

And, sorry, but those of us who are in shape are not all cougars. You may be attracted to us, to your immense bafflement, but we don’t wear leopard skin Spanx and most of us are not trying to seduce boys. If they get seduced, it’s their own problem, not ours. We’re interested in lovers who are not afraid of us and who know the depths of love because they have depth in themselves. Otherwise stay away.

Being “a certain age” is a no-woman’s land of just being who we are. A tad unfair. Teenagers have prescribed roles, millennials have prescribed roles, young parents have prescribed roles, people of middle-age have their prescribed crises, and then there are women 60 and over.

We have made it through marriages, divorces, betrayals, illnesses, children, disappointments, poverty, prejudice, injuries, and successes. We have made it through being beautiful and being ugly. We have made it through seeing that the world will not be devoid of pain – ours and others – in our lifetimes. We have made it through seeing what our work has or has not done to change the world for the better.

We have forgotten more people and more lovers and more crises than any other group, and we savor beauty and remember EXACTLY what and who we should remember. When my granddaughter at 4 years of age sings out “Let It Go,” she has no idea that we say this to ourselves every single day. Every time we look in the mirror, every time we feel pain, every time we want to cry. We let the tears come, and then the laughter. We KNOW how to “let it go.”

photo 9And one day we stop worrying that we don’t have role models except Gloria S. and Tina T. and Elizabeth (Warren), and a few others … oh, wait, there is a list! Yes, of course, and each is uniquely herself.

And we are suddenly able to be goofy in the face of what is and what was – and not because we mumble to ourselves or don’t know any better. No, it’s because we do know. We have learned how important “goofy” is. It is freedom not to be a crone, not to be a cougar, but to be magnificently ourselves.

Here’s looking at you, kid.