How much it hurts

I just want to wail, over and over, “I just want to go home, I just want to go home!”

I ran a little experiment and tried to post about what things are like for me right now on my family public blog. I just feel like a lot of my writing over here is of good quality, and I keep thinking I should go back to writing where my family can see it.

But the whole reason I started this one was because so much of what I’m feeling is emotionally complex enough I can’t be blunt and honest about it with my family. And there it is again. I started trying to write the first sentence I started this post with, over there, and I couldn’t do it.

Because it seems too melodramatic, and I find myself trying to tone it down for them. Because it is true, but if I said it to them, it would make people too upset. There’s nothing they can do to help me. So I share, but somehow I can only share so much. Maybe just because I have learned how terribly uncomfortable tears make them feel, and so I find myself trying to spare them of that? Because it’s not that I don’t want them to know I’m homesick. I just don’t want them to know that I’m finding tears rolling down my cheeks nearly every day now.

I can’t do this.

I want to go home.

I can’t do this, but I have to.

I want to go home.

I want to go home.

I want to go home. . .

What do you care?

There is something uniquely gut-wrenching about watching a grown man cry.

It seems almost too private to write about, yet has unsettled me all day and so I feel the need to work it out.

A patient who had been to the clinic for a long time passed away last fall. Now, her family was back in the clinic, giving an hour long presentation that was half a memorial, half a thanks. The clinician I was with that day was — is — a man’s man. More fit than a fiddle, broad shouldered, narrow waisted, tall, handsome, charming. Spent his stint in the army. Loves his outdoor sports.

I kept glancing across the table, wondering if he’d crack. The rest of the (mostly female) department was audibly sniffing. He was still doing his tough guy stance. But when they got to the part they were specifically thanking him and relating stories of the times the patient had spent in our department, he was doing more than wiping a few tears.

As soon as the lights came on, he stood up, all official and business-like, and went to his desk. As a person who has lost her tears in public more than once, I knew he was business-like scrubbing his tears as fast as possible. Patients in 10 minutes.

In 10 minutes, I couldn’t find him. I went up to bring the next patient down. I was up one flight of stairs,  when I heard (but couldn’t see) someone entering the stairwell. I heard him crying up three flights of stairs. Actually, I heard him stop in the stairwell to do his crying without an audience. He’d have easily overtaken me on the stairs if he had any intention of climbing them.

He joined me in the patient’s room a few minutes later, no trace of tears on his face.

And I was angry.

Not that he’d cried. Not that he’d hid his tears.

That this place is so far from home.

I finally found a place that seems to care about human beings the way I do, and it’s hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of miles from home.


“What was the saddest moment in your life?”

“Sad is a pretty flat word; grief is much deeper. When I knew my grandpa was going to die, I wondered what grief was going to feel like. Then he died, and I wondered why I didn’t feel grief. Then at his memorial service, one of my aunts and some of my cousins started singing, and I sobbed uncontrollably. It was very primal–bypassed any thought or emotion or higher function. It was very physical; I heard and I cried, and there was no more choice to one or the other. I still didn’t ‘feel’ grief, but as soon as a song started, the deep sobs would start all over again.

It’s been years. There are still songs that aren’t safe for me to listen to, and I still don’t know what grief feels like.”

Why Not Cry?

“So. . .you spent the last 20 minutes trying to hold it all in and contain your feelings. Maybe you should have just had a good cry?”

These are not the word I expected to hear, least of all from my singing instructor. Well, why not cry?

Because! Because I was just tired, and because it was just a silly quiz, and because it didn’t really matter, and because I should be more mature than that, and because what was done was done and here I was now, and because. . .

But none of my reasons were compelling. Why not cry? The question lingered, even after the singing lesson was over.

Who and what and when and why, even, are we taught not to cry? Because it’s unpleasant to listen to? Upon reflection, I had to admit that in some ways this was a good thing. Crying is a sign of distress; one should not have joy listening to it. But did that validate the idea that one shouldn’t cry unless one had a very good reason to?

Perhaps the idea of “not crying” is just a social or cultural construct. This does not necessarily make it bad, but neither does it make it good. I search my memory for a passage in the Bible where God says, “Oh my word, stop your crying already! I hate it when you do that, and you don’t even have a good reason for it!” Instead, I turn up Jesus weeping and Jesus defending the woman who washed His feet with tears. I remember that God promised to wipe every tear away–not to finally fix people from their stupid crying thing, but acknowledging the pain and promising the comfort–the final, full comfort.

I was tired, and I got a 72 on a Physics quiz, and I’m mad at myself for not being able to control my emotions better, mad that I can’t just breeze into my singing lesson and pull off an elegant rendition. It feels right to be angry at myself for being weak, but then I don’t know how to answer my instructor. Why not cry? Where is your justification for for thinking it is more righteous to hurt on the inside instead of letting your pain out? What right do you have to be angry at yourself for feeling, for having emotions? Why are you trying not to feel what is yours to feel?

I want to be above my emotions. I want to hold them in regal authority, allowing them not to move me until I concede it is so. But echoing in my head, I hear the voice of God in passage after passage. . .My heart was grieved within me. . .My heart was moved. . .I have had pity on you. . .My heart longs. . .My heart was stirred. . .

The God of the Universe feels. The God of Universe does not dismiss His emotion, or discount it. Indeed, He created us to be able to cry, a feat I do not see repeated in any of the rest of His creation.

And we stifle it.

It is wrong to cry, wrong to show tears in public, it is weak, it is childish, it is shameful. Why? Now that the question has been asked, I find it rather confounding and difficult to let go of. Why should I be ashamed of tears, why should I be frustrated that there is no place on campus to be “alone enough to cry”? Why am I afraid to let anyone know that what I really want is to be comforted? Is it because I am afraid that in my pain they will only hurt me worse? Do I think they will scorn my “weakness”? Or is it more simple than that, and I just really don’t want anyone to know that it hurts me to be tired and get a 72 on my Physics quiz?

I’m not happy with any of those answers. But I find that I’m also unable to reject them. I’ve boughten in too deeply to the social construct that being “tough as nails” is a good thing, and that the way a woman is tough is to not let anyone see her cry. That for a woman to be strong, it means to play the boys’ game, and win anyway. That people should be shocked to know you cried, because for something to make you cry–you!–it should be so devastatingly horrible it takes your breath away.

I know that’s not true, but I can’t let it go, either. I wish–what I really wish–is that I had the guts in and the grace to stroll into my Physics professor’s office, and tell him, “By the way, please don’t give me my grades on Wednesdays. I cry a lot, and that screws up my singing. I’ll pick them up on your Friday offices hours.”

But still–I want to be able to say it, and not flinch. Say it, and not blush. Say it, and not care if he laughs that I cry over grades that aren’t perfect enough. Say it, and rule my emotions with an iron rod.

I’m not willing to accept myself as an emotional being. I’m not willing to admit that I need to schedule in time to feel, to hurt, to cry. I’m not willing to admit that it’s not a bad thing to cry, and  I don’t even quite dare to write that it might be a very good thing to cry. I want to be cool and keep it all together, not admitting that I go all to pieces weekly and I don’t want to admit that it’s both expected and okay. I want to conquer that, not get better and better at saying, “Boy, I go all to pieces!” Maybe, if I got really good at it, I could say it with a laugh.

I read a blog post this week, and since then I’ve read it an re-read it. There’s a lot that sticks. One part is this:

“I’ve got to quit being so down on myself. If GOD LOVES ME, but I’m constantly berating myself, it’s apparent – just speaking logically, here – that I believe that what I think of me is more important than what He thinks.”