If ‘crying in public places’ was an Olympic sport, I think I would be a serious contender for a gold medal. I have been going through an incredibly tough personal journey and emotions have been bubbling close to the surface resulting in an unprecedented amount of public shedding of tears.
I’ve cried in the middle of the food hall at Westfield, I’ve cried in bars and fancy restaurants, I’ve cried walking into church, during church and after church. I’ve cried at the beach, through an entire class at the gym and on my kitchen floor. There’s something about pain, physical or emotional, that lowers our guards, breaks down our normal barriers and short-cuts our normal filters.
We all understand how it is when we drop something heavy on our toes or shut our finger in the car door and we see how quickly the cry (or the expletive!) rushes to the surface. It’s the same with emotional pain but somehow in our modern western culture we seem to have lost the art of the cry.
The Irish call it ‘keening’, the Africans call it ‘ululating’, the Bible calls it ‘deep calling to deep’… and no other culture says it’s not OK except for our stiff-upper-lip British heritage. The World War II catchphrase of ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ is cute on a tea-towel but really not good enough advice when it comes to processing the deep recesses of the heart.
The reality is that deep emotion is not tidy. It’s messy and confronting and no-one really knows what to say when it manifests itself, but consider this. If you were in pain from a broken leg nobody would shush you for making a noise of complaint or shedding a tear as you try to move your leg and regain your strength.
In the same way we should not attempt to hide the tsunami of emotion that wells up inside us as broken hearts attempt to move, heal and regain strength.
I am not talking about stopping altogether and wallowing in self-pity (although the occasional paddle in the ‘Poor Me’ river is not to be sniffed at!) I heard a great quote once, ‘If you are walking through a storm…Keep Going!’ We may not be able to remain completely calm but at least we can keep moving.
In a strange way, this process has been liberating. No-one is surprised if suddenly my tears flow, laughter breaks out loudly or I cling to them in a hug that lasts twice as long as normal. I feel less contained, less constrained and freer to allow emotion to flow like a stream of consciousness.
Throughout this process I have spent countless hours with makeup streaming down my face, friends have stopped pointing out to me that my mascara is running and learnt to assume that when the tears stop, I will head to the bathroom to sort it out.
The thing is, I refuse to stop wearing the makeup. It’s not about my pride, or my desire to look good, it’s not even about the reality that without eyeliner a search party needs to be sent out to look for my eyes. The reason I refuse to stop layering on the mascara like coats of inky war paint is that I believe for something, I hope for something, I wait for something.
I believe that one day, sometime soon, I will get through a day without the tears falling, that I will make it through just one passage of time without the makeup channeling furrows down my face as my emotions spill over.
I will not give up. Something inside me clings to hope for a better day and until I see it, I will embrace the gift of the cry.