As Tears Go By

The airport is a great place to make observations. I was recently there, standing at my gate, waiting for the passengers from a late arriving flight to disembark. I’m the type of person who makes up life stories for each person I see. My grandmother always did this, too, and even though she was probably off the mark half the time, her ideas of people were sad but always lovely – she had great compassion and humanity for the world around her.

Eventually, they made the announcement that our plane was ready to board. Up to the front of the line moved an elderly couple with their two grandchildren, who were under the age of ten and would be traveling alone. I watched them say good-bye to their grandparents. I saw the extra long hug and squeeze that this elderly couple gave these two precious children, and the look in their eyes as they watched them walk down the gangway to the plane. They were waiting for them to turn around and wave one last time, but like all kids, they were already onto their next adventure and it didn’t occur to them to turn around for the  final wave or the final eye contact.

As I watched this unfold, my eyes started to well up. I knew, or I thought I did, that the grandparents were looking at those two kids thinking, there goes a piece of us, there goes our gift to the future. They might have also been thinking, I hope that’s not the last time we see them, but I’m pretty sure that’s exactly what they were thinking. By the time you’re old and gray you know very well that life can turn on a dime, that all things are temporary, including your own existence. The clock is always ticking — and the sound of that ticking gets louder as we age. We become very aware of each experience, everything gets magnified because we know, very well, that it could be the last time we have that particular joy.

Anyway, the fact that I plug into what people are feeling is both good and bad. I didn’t see anyone else with tears in their eyes. Everyone else was going about their business. I think life would be much freer if I didn’t overwhelm myself with those observations. I’ve always been this way but it feels like it’s gotten worse as I get older. I can tear up at the drop of a hat. I hate saying goodbye to people because it feels so final. Maybe I’m just hormonal? I don’t know. Maybe this is just a fragile time in my life and so I feel things even more intensely. Or maybe it’s just the way God made me? I can’t say that I always love it. I don’t. It can be embarrassing.

Tears and, or, crying, can be quite cathartic and very cleansing. I have no problem watching other people cry, in fact, in some ways it brings me joy because I recognize it as such a human quality – it connects us to one another. I like to give people plenty of space when they cry. I don’t want to trample on the moment – if you say, “Are you okay?” too soon, you could interfere with the catharsis. Sometimes it’s best to take a back seat and let the other person’s tears do their thing. It takes some sensitivity to know when to say something and when not to. Obviously, not all tears are from sadness, sometimes we cry tears of joy. I do. I will say that some people get uneasy when they see people cry. I think some have a tendency to want to fix the situation immediately – it scares them and they want it to stop. It’s a very vulnerable thing, after all, to expose that level of feeling. It depends upon the way you were raised. If being vulnerable is a frightening experience, and you equate getting emotionally hurt with that level of exposure, then someone crying could definitely make you uncomfortable. But if you were raised in a home were people were free to emote and feel their feelings, you’re probably okay with it. Even though I was raised in dysfunction I will say that we were allowed to feel our feelings and express them any way we wanted –probably because it was total anarchy! In a family of girls/women, you can bet the tears flowed.

How do you feel when you watch people in your presence cry? What kind of things make you cry? Is the well dry, or do you cry? There’s no right or wrong answer here, we’re all different.