Dove (c) 2010 Jim Glennon
I have another confession to make.
I learned at least two things about myself this week. Having had a catastrophic computer failure that left me without any prepared remarks to fill hours of scheduled speaking, I learned I never actually needed the notes in order to speak.
I also learned I’m not as tough as I thought.
I realized that although I had written, in truly excruciating detail, about the worst parts of my husband’s treatment (literally, medically, and as a matter of the absence of compassionate care by an indelible fraction of healthcare professionals); I had not publicly spoken at length about these things before.
I did so this week, in front of large groups of strangers, in my husband’s honor and in an effort to add something to the Schwartz Center‘s offerings to the cause of compassionate healthcare. And each time I speak there is something I cannot quite get through, something on which my voice and mind catches and I have to pause.
Each time, some stranger is kind enough to hand me some tissues, and I plow ahead.
At least in English, crying is almost as hard to describe as pain. The impulse to it seems nearly as inescapable as the neurons which fire to signal physical pain.
In The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People who Read Them, Elif Batuman wrote: “Persian. . . had only one word for crying, whereas Old Uzbek had one hundred. Old Uzbek had words for wanting to cry and not being able to, for being caused to sob by something, for loudly crying like thunder in the clouds, for crying in gasps, for weeping inwardly or secretly, for crying ceaselessly in a high voice, for crying in hiccups, and for crying while uttering the sound hay hay.”
I think I’ve covered all those categories by now, although hiccuping is not my forte.
And while there has been abundant philosophical and religious discourse upon the purposes of pain, of physical suffering; shedding tears seems a more mysterious outlet.
The Reverend who officiated at my husband’s Closing Ceremonies introduced me to some of his favorite authors (I offered him Primo Levi’s short stories in exchange). One is Frederick Buechner, whose meditation on grace in Wishful Thinking notes that “[m]ost tears are grace, the smell of rain is grace. Somebody loving you is grace. Loving somebody is grace. Have you ever tried to love somebody?”
Unlike love and the smell of rain, Buechner modified the category of tears: not all tears are grace. This makes sense to me: tears shed in a fit of pique or petulance, or in a manipulative or false way, are not grace. But tears tied to love are, and–as much as I would like to be in control of my emotions, being a native New Englander and, technically, a grown-up–I am no longer ashamed if they come in public.
Sure, I’d rather not weep at the vet’s when I am overcome with the thought that my dog must miss his master; or somehow remain transparent enough outside, when I think my eyes are shielded by sunglasses, that strangers will hand me kleenex.
But there is no shame in tears of grace.
(c) 2012 Stephanie M. Glennon