Monday, December 31, 2012

learning to cry

Yesterday's snow brought six or eight inches on top of the four or five that had fallen the day before. My sons had attacked the earlier snowfall, but yesterday's accumulation was on me: My wife and sons had left for a wedding in New York.

Where once I might have sworn a bit and then done what needed to be done, yesterday I was confronted by the fact that cussing was about all I was capable of ... I am simply not strong enough to do what needed to be done. Old age is old age.

Nonetheless, I grabbed a shovel and cleaned off the porch stairs. I had attacked a part of the sidewalk, stopping frequently and resting on the shovel handle, when Joe, my neighbor across the street called out to me.

Joe is in his 60's, but more important, at the moment he called out, he was manhandling a very upscale snow blower  around his property. Joe indicated that he would do my sidewalk and the pile of snow that had accumulated at the end of the driveway.

And it made me want to cry. Literally.

I could recognize from experience that using a snow blower to clean 50 feet of sidewalk and a driveway entrance was really no big deal. Snow blowers, like dishwashers, are miraculously effective tools. But I wanted to cry because what was not a big deal was in fact a big deal to me. "Imagine that!" the welling tears seemed to say. Imagine that someone might help me.

I did not grow up learning what other kids seemed to have learned -- that someone would help, that there was someone to kiss it better, that crying was sensible or useful or cathartic. Other kids -- some of them later spoiled and yet others simply human -- got into a groove that I had never been trained to: That my fears or needs or capacities were worthy of attention. I did grow up in a time when "boys don't cry," but my training went beyond that: Not only was my crying impermissible because of sex, it was just not something that could expect to be requited in the world I inhabited. I suppose I was trained in the way that I was trained because the people who might have trained me, notably my parents, had likewise never learned how to cry and be requited.

Joe made me want to cry.

And why not? There is time now to make up for past omissions. Old age provides the time in which to run out of energy -- the kind of energy required to maintain defenses and rely on explanations and believe mighty, social beliefs. As I can no longer shovel very well, so the explained and belief-strewn context of social life simply cannot cast the convincing spell that it once did. In the literal sense, I am weaker now, and in that weakness more capable of seeing that so-called strengths are not all they were cracked up to be. I may wish to my heart's content that I were stronger, more capable, more in control, but the bare-assed fact is that I am not. And ... here comes the punch line ... what is the matter with facts?

What is the matter with tears? An ego trip? So what? A cry for help? So what? A gloomy admission of incompetence? So what? A time when no one comes to the rescue? So what?

Tears are tears, in joy or sorrow, relief or horror. They are wet and cleansing and ... hell, they are just plain human. Running from tears is like running from the stars ... the stars don't mind. Much of spiritual life is a matter of running from the tears. But the question poses itself -- where could anyone possibly run ... and why was I running in the first place?

Tears don't kiss it better in one sense and yet in another, they are the very kiss anyone might expect.

I don't plan to make tears an elevated habit of some sort, but I believe I will practice a little. It accomplishes nothing and in that accomplishment, accomplishes everything. Perhaps I am not as weak as I thought I was.

Excuse me now while I watch some happy-ending chick flick on the television: Happy endings make me cry these days.

Thank you, Joe.

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