For the first twenty years of my life, I don’t believe I cried. Maybe for an owwie when I was three.
At age 25, I went to a performance of Jesus Christ Superstar in a Vancouver church. Afterwards I sat in the dark under a tree in Queen Elizabeth Park and cried for an hour.
My wife Jody died in November, 2014. For the next year at least, I cried every day.
Now it feels like I’m on the verge of tears a lot … eyes moist, soul overwhelmed with sadness or beauty. But it’s not about me. It’s about all of us, in our agony and joy. It’s about moments of grace. It’s about the acts of kindness I see. It’s about the largeness of life, whether “positive” or “negative”.
Yesterday I sat with Karen at a Toronto Island church, listening to a string quartet. I wondered where her boyfriend Barry was. I had seen them together before I went on a meditation retreat in September. Karen told me … he died on February 5 of melanoma. Two weeks earlier, she and Barry were married. I’m crying now about their lost love.
I grew up in a life where no one seemed to cry. Certainly mom and dad didn’t, at least in my presence. Aunts, uncles, family friends, teachers, ministers … no tears. Maybe actors and actresses did in movies but I must have been watching the wrong films.
And then there are desperate situations in the world that would force anyone to shut down their emotional life:
I once heard a young man talk about his life as a child in Cambodia. All of the children in his village spent years imprisoned in a barbed-wire encampment. Four times a day, people were brought to the outskirts of that encampment to be killed. The children were all lined up and forced to watch. According to the rule, if one of them started to cry, then he or she would also be killed. This boy said that each time people were brought to be killed, he was absolutely terrified that among them would be a friend, neighbor or relative. He knew that if that happened, he would start to cry, and then he would be killed. He lived with this terror for years. He said that in that circumstance the only way he could survive was to completely cut off all feeling, to dehumanize himself altogether.
How immensely sad, and terrifying.
I was reading to the Grade 5/6 kids today from The City Of Ember, a fascinating novel. Lina, a 12-year-old girl, was sitting with her grandma. As she cared for her ill loved one, Lina thought of her dad:
In the back of her mind was the memory of the days of her father’s illness, when he seemed to grow dim like a lamp losing power, and the sound of his breathing was like water gurgling through a clogged pipe. Though she didn’t want to, she also remembered the evening when her father let out one last short breath and didn’t take another.
“This is how Jody died,” I told the kids and Jayne, their teacher. The room was very quiet. My eyes were wet but I fought off the tears. And I’m sorry I did. It would have been a fine lesson for them to see a man cry. “That’s okay, Bruce. Please forgive yourself for not letting go completely.” I do. And now I’m crying for my dear wife.
It’s a tough job we human beings have, but I’m glad we all signed up. The horrors are real and so is the beauty. Let’s celebrate each other as we do our best to navigate the maze of life.