“You don’t cry.” Those words were directed at me from a co-worker whose last day at the firm was yesterday. My response was, “Yes, I do”, and as I hugged her, the tears began flowing. She was already crying and so were my other co-workers, but I had promised myself that I wouldn’t cry. I lied. I broke that promise as soon as I saw them standing at the front door as she prepared to make her final exit. She is younger than I am, but I learned so much from her. Her level of professionalism is outstanding yet we had some of the greatest laughs ever. She always said I was the perpetrator in the foolishness (and she’s probably right), but she was super funny. Even though I’m extremely happy that she finally found her way out of this place, I will miss her. I couldn’t stop the tears from falling, though, and that is not something that happens often.
I thought about what she said far into the night. Before March 2018, the number of people who had seen me cry could be counted on one hand. In my mind, when those tears started flowing, that meant that I had lost my self-control. After having had my feelings discounted so many times during my marriage, I had stopped crying. I had been told many, many times during those 19 years that I was blowing things out of proportion, that I was being overly-sensitive, and that the world didn’t revolve around me. Eventually, I started believing that whatever I thought was either wrong or stupid, therefore, I learned to shut up about my feelings because I knew in the end, they would be shot down. I dared not let one tear fall. Those tears meant nothing to the person who hurt me, and to me, they were the greatest sign of weakness. I stopped letting them flow. I didn’t even allow myself to cry in private.
To show you how deeply I had pressed down the allowance to “feel”, I remember sitting at one of my favorite aunt’s funeral just as stoic as a corpse. Everyone around me was crying, but I didn’t shed one tear. The same thing happened at the funeral services for four of my uncles. By the time my own mother died in 2015, I was not much better. While we sat with her in intensive care, I did not cry. When they informed us that she had passed at 3:17 AM, I only nodded. I cried at her funeral, but not enough to dampen the single tissue that I held. Several people told me that they were worried about me because I had not cried. They all knew how close I was to Mama so they couldn’t understand why I was emotionless. My heart was bleeding and I was screaming on the inside, but I never let those people see me cry.
What I have learned after making my way over that 12-ply, concrete wall that I built is that crying is okay. As a matter-of-fact, it is cleansing. It is good for you. It is essential. Tears must flow as they are a stream through which those tied up emotions are released. My own growth has quadrupled because I’ve stopped holding things in. I have made tremendous strides in every area of my life, but one of the most important areas is my emotional state. What I know now is that my feelings matter. I know that if a person cares for you, the only tears they will cause you to cry are ones of happiness. Your tears are a well. That well can be one filled with cleansing waters or it can be filled with murky, toxic water. Sure enough, at some point, you will cry some of those tears from a place of pain. Death and other losses are inevitable as we make our way through this thing called life. You’re going to lose people. You’re going to plan and attend funerals of loved ones. Those tears are coming and there’s nothing you can do to stop them. Any other kind of tears should come from a place of laughter or joy. Don’t let anyone cause your tears to spring from a place of unnecessary pain, especially in continuance. Life is too short. Live hard. Live in joy.