Learning to Cry
It's important to make space for emotions.
I used to be that person who never cried. Maybe because life, for the first few decades, was pretty simple.
But I think it’s inevitable that as we go through life, we will be challenged, tested and provoked. And some of us will learn to cry. Others will struggle with crying, having been taught or conditioned that big boys or girls don’t cry, that tears are a sign of weakness. Those tears will get frozen somewhere in the esophagus, creating lumps in throats and stomachaches, but it’s hard to unlearn those messages.
My tears are always hovering just beneath the surface. It doesn’t take much to spring a leak, sometimes at the most inconvenient moments. It’s not always socially appropriate to cry and it’s not always fair to burden others with my tears. So, I’ve learned to install a lock box on my tears.
Envy, despair, grief, self-pity, just wait your turn because you are the most demanding clients I’ve ever met.
I have taught my feelings that they must take a number and get in line, that they don’t always get a voice exactly when they want to. “Envy, despair, grief, self-pity,” I say, “Listen up, all of you and just wait your turn because you are the most demanding clients I’ve ever met. I can’t always attend to you the minute you make yourself known.”
In my soul are the boxes, and each box has a lock, restricting it to its time and place. I put my emotions in the boxes, and I put the emotions of others in the boxes as well. I lock the door and move along briskly with my day because I have things to do, people to see and can’t luxuriate in this thing called “feeling” until the time is right. Sometimes I hear a knocking from the box, but I just remind it to be patient. Its time will come.
When people say, “How are you?” I smile bright and, to the echo of the lock box, say, “Great. Everything is fine.” And by “fine” I mean life is complicated, confusing and a very mixed bag, and that I can’t unpack the bag or the box right now. “Fine” is the truth and also a lie, and that’s OK.
And then the time comes. The day winds to an end; it’s quiet and peaceful. The phone stops ringing and the list of things to do stops demanding. I sink onto the couch and slowly address the lock box. I unlock the door and gently unpack my baggage. I grieve, I cry, I mourn. I lament and regret and am petulant. I let it all out until it is spent. And then I give it all up to God, wipe my face and repack my boxes, carefully and delicately, like packing fine china. I must respect these emotions for their power and authenticity, but they cannot rule the roost. I must rule them. I gently lock the doors and kiss them goodbye for now. And then, sleep overtakes me, because tomorrow is another day.
Tomorrow, I will be fine again. The boxes and the fineness are no contradiction. There’s space in my soul for it all.
This article originally appeared in the Cleveland Jewish News.