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Portland, OR, United States
I am finishing up my midwifery apprenticeship and plan to be a real midwife early in 2014!

Wednesday, March 12, 2008


I've been kicking around some ideas about tears for a while, and wanting to blog about them, but I'm not sure what I've got that's cohesive. So, I'll bang it out here and see what I've got.

A couple of weeks ago I took my kids to their tae kwon do class. Usually Paul takes them, as he takes the class with them, but he was out of town. I'd never actually sat in on a class before and I found it interesting to finally see this great teacher they've talked up in action. In contrast to many sports coaches, she is gentle and lacks the macho attitude, and doesn't think that tae kwon do should ever be actually used to hurt anyone unless someone first is intent on hurting the student.

I witnessed many different emotions during the class. Some were excited over learning something new, some were anxious as they were new in the class, some were frustrated over not being able to get a move they were working on. At one point, the teacher had more experienced students work with less experienced students. When they came back together, I saw the teacher talking with one student, a girl of about 12. She first cheerfully said "don't worry, he really gives good advice!" And then, in a stage whisper, said "why don't you go get a drink of water." It was when the girl turned to do that I saw that she was crying.

It was interesting to me that I'd just been discussing tears with a friend. An emotional moment had occurred in church for her just the day before and the tears came. It wasn't anything that hadn't happened to me before. She told me that she is an intellectual, and tears are a no-no for intellectuals. The perception is that it somehow sullies logic to have tears involved.

My question is: why are tears shameful to us? Why is crying seen as something that makes us less objective and more volatile? I told my friend that I have been trying to allow myself the freedom to cry when I need to, but it is difficult to do so in the moment. Tears are unpredictable; we cannot plan for them and how they will be received.

I am not an intellectual, but rather am a deeply practical woman. Tears are no more acceptable for practical people than they are for intellectuals. What good comes from them? They don't get dinner on the table. They muddy things and get in the way. And yet, I am firmly convinced that they are necessary and good.

I'm not someone who cries very often, or feels the need to. But I think that tears are a sign of a depth of soul, that we haven't gotten too jaded. Tears show that we still feel. It's easy to hide emotion as long as tears aren't involved. As soon as the tears come, like for the girl in tae kwon do, everyone knows exactly how you feel.

And so, if people know how you feel, they know that you feel, and that you are an emotional person. Somehow it has become a good thing to mask our emotion and only appear as even-keeled as possible. In our relationships with people, emotions are good and necessary, they help us empathize, they help us see what is truly important. And it's the relationships that are the main thing in life. Perhaps relationships are life. Relationships are what make us human, and because we are human we have relationships.


Susan said...

A Central Catholic teacher of my girls told them that tears are the windex of the soul....I think that sums it up!

Mimi said...

I really like your thoughts, and Susan's as well. I often find myself tearing up (most recently at "The Angel Cried" during Forgiveness Vespers) but not when I am "supposed to" that often (upon hearing of a death, for example).

Many saints have said that the tears of repentance are a good thing, you have helped me to remember that.

You should go to the class more often!

mariagwyn said...

It is good to be reminded that tears are just as frustrating for the practical person as for the intellectual. Certainly as an intellectual, I work in a world where emotions are characterized as 'womanish,' which is, of course, meant to be dismissive.

The difficulty of tears is that while they tell us that we feel, they don't tell us what we feel. Sadness is assumed, but Dee Jaquet has said to me more than once that the only acceptable way for a woman to express anger is through tears. So, when I cry, am I angry (and if I am, is it justified anger?) or am I sad? Emotion is a red flag that something is wrong. The difficult question is whether it is something about which I need to repent (thus tears of repentance) or is something in the world I should grieve and perhaps seek to change.

I have often struggled with the Buddhist (and sometimes 'Desert Wisdom') concept of "dispassion" or non-attachment. Many times tears are signs of attachment. But what is the line between non-attachment and not caring? If we cannot grieve and be angry, at ourselves, at tragedy and brokenness in the world, how will we have the energy to change?

Isn't the soul of Christianity to have compassion, to "suffer with" as Henry Nouwen has so compellingly described? Suffering with another (and sometimes because of another) generates grief, anger, sometimes joy. I think you are right, to deny emotion and tears is to somehow lose our souls, to be less human.

All this does not however, make it any more comfortable to burst into tears in the middle of church when you are supposed to be singing some crazy Greek hymn, supa'-fast.

"Harumph" says the grouchy intellectual.

Molly Newman said...

I'm a frail female creature who cries at the drop of a hat. And I know that tears are often perceived as weakness, and being perceived as weak makes me mad, and being mad makes me cry. There is no escape from it, this vicious circle of weepitude.

"Windex of the soul." I love that! Thanks, Susan!

mariagwyn said...


very nice. :)

ElizO said...

I'm a crier also. I just can't seem to separate myself from my or anyone else's emotions. Even fictional characters--I just can't stop myself from feeling their pain! Or beautiful music, or from singing with a group, or watching a child earnestly doing their best in some performance, or attending a wedding--things just always seem to bubble over. I cry all the time when I'm not sad, but when something just touches me as beautiful or meaningful, I just can't help it. It is annoying, but it's just who I am. A friend of mine said that she found that she was less sensitive after menapause--maybe there is some hope for me!

architect said...

Good post.
Yesterday I learned that a friend of mine, who I don't see very often, lost her 14 year old son in a car accident a month ago. All I wanted to do was go in a quiet corner and cry - which of course I couldn't do because of the hustle and bustle of the day. In this instance I wanted to share her pain and somehow (as if it were possible) reduce hers. Empathy at its finest, but seemingly unpractical. (?)
I also find that when I share my personal testimony of God's goodness to myself and family, I tend to tear up and my frustration and shame at the tears, gets in the way of my sharing. The tears speak the volume of how deep God's care and provision touches my life, so I shouldn't be upset with them, but the brainwashing of my childhood, which said tears were a sign of selfishness (thank you SS teacher, grrr) or weakness, get in the way of the telling of Gods wonderfulness.
Wow, something to chew on for the day... Thanks!!

Catherine said...

Yeah, I'm a crier, too. At times, it annoys me to no end (like when I'm attempting to voice an injustice and can't finish due to tears) but on the whole I've honestly learned to embrace it as part of me. And those that are close to me know full well what to expect in a variety of settings!

Excellent post; thanks!

Elizabeth said...

Wow. I didn't receive email notification that all these comments were here! And I thought no one had commented until I happened to notice "8 comments." I guess I touched a nerve. And each of you who commented touched a nerve in me. Thank you for sharing your own tears.

And...any guys who value tears? These are all women who have responded. Anyone?

Liz said...

I think that in certain environments (work for instance) tears signal someone who might be being led more by emotion than by logical reason. Many people view the crier as being irrational, unless it is about something such as say the death or illness of someone. But if its about your personal affront or how angry you are about the newspaper today, etc etc, um, no. This isn't about faking...its about a time and place for everything. Sometimes, holding it off till you are in private or with a trusted person is a very good idea. In a business or legal environment...being weepy is just seen as a tendency to being irrational. On a somewhat different note:I know of plenty of doctors or therapists that go home and have a good cry but when you are there for the patient, it can't be about you and how crushed you are. They are seen in an expert role and to see them crying can make the client feel even MORE helpless. Nurses however, are seen as emotional support...nurses cry with their patients. Its OK. But you don't want to see the guy slicing you open bawling his eyes out as he reads your chart. It sort of undermines your confidence in his abilities. There is a time and a place for everything. So unless you just found out something tragic in which public tears are totally acceptable: please keep the tears out of the workplace. Its seen as unprofessional.