We idealize children’s tears. Atticus Finch tells Jem, “Seems that only children weep.” Ally Sheedy’s Allison in The Breakfast Club pronounces, “When you grow up, your heart dies.” Both characters speak sentimentally of the deep feelings of children, raising up their emotional navigation of the world as an inevitably crumbling ideal. How many other films, television programs, and books are founded on the premise that kids perceive and feel what adults cannot see or forget? We hold a cultural belief that children’s naiveté affords them wisdom—to our detriment. Emotional vulnerability is not a polestar; adulthood does not consign us to coldness. Romanticizing children’s feelings prepares us only to grieve what we’ve lost, rather than building durable beliefs, feelings and understandings that can sustain us through adulthood.
Children intuit fairness and rightness, guided by their gut. (Their sense of right and wrong is not always so infallible as popular culture suggests, but we’ll leave that aside.) But to evaluate justice and morality through personal feelings is to follow a dictatorship of one. Are we to always trust our feelings as right? What if our feelings change or lessen? Outrage is powerful; outrage often fades. Better to construct a deeper, fuller understanding over time. Ethical principles might begin as feelings, but they are built on complexities, reasoning and examples. We need the structures to outlast youth if our world is to improve. Additionally, leaving oneself fully open to pain is not a pathway to moral enlightenment; it’s a recipe for madness and paralysis. It’s true that calluses on feet and hands make feeling more difficult, but it’s not impossible, and the tougher skin makes it possible to keep working. Moral anger is useless if the person feeling it cannot work to make things better.
In a very different vein, we sentimentalize the fresh joy of children. It’s hard not to—set up a sprinkler for a group of kids on a summer day and just watch, or think of the happiness of a five-year-old on Christmas morning. We should take delight in the joy of children. We make a mistake, however, if we pine for that simpler joy. It might be powerful, but it is not more meaningful than adult happiness. The new-toy-from-Santa smile is not more profound than the warm-home-with-family smile. In later childhood, first love is transporting and absolutely absorbing. It feels very different from third love—but the emotional intensity of first love does not make it deeper or richer than the bond of a longtime relationship. And seeing the beauty of a frozen lake or a mountain or a bird does not have to matter less when we’ve seen it before. In no small part, childhood joy depends on novelty. A thing quickens a child’s heart because it’s special, and it’s easy for a thing to be special if it’s new. Familiarity and contemplation can also uncover the rarity of a thing, however, and more meaningfully. Newness can come from nuance, not just brevity. And nuance, thankfully, is infinite.
We can and should remember the feelings of childhood. Those tears and laughs meant something. But if they dry up as we grow, if they appear less readily, if they come from emotional swings of lesser force or rapidity, that does not have to mean we’re dead inside. Childhood feelings must be a starting point from which we grow, not only rising upward but also sending down roots lest the coming winds uproot us. Instinctive outrage and novel joy are superficial for all their strength. We owe it to ourselves, children, and society to cultivate something lasting. An oak outlasts the bloom of a flower, and it’s no less beautiful.
I often compare emotional strength to physical strength; Some adversity is good.
To build an immune system, you need to get sick, so your body learns to fight it.
To build muscle, you need to damage it, and then allow it to grow back stronger.
When you handle rough material, like wood or rope, your skin thickens and builds callouses.
Same with emotion. You need to feel that pain and cry for a while, before you get stronger.
But, this only works to a certain degree.
When sickness overwhelms the body, toughing it out can be disastrous.
Exercise too hard, and you can do permanent damage.
And no callous can stand up to blades or shards of glass.
Learn not to cry over spilled milk, and you’re stronger. But hold it in when real shit happens, then you’re doing damage.
Can a person be both broken and powerful?
Sometimes I think it's sad. Sad how I've grown up to not be able to cry as much. When I was small, all I'd do was cry. There was never a very good reason for it. And that was the thing I hated most about myself.
But now it's different.
I've realised that it's never stupid to cry.
Firstly, it doesn't matter how trivial a problem seems. If you're so distressed that you're crying over it, it's never nothing.
Secondly, I miss crying. Depression has taken it away from me.
I used to cry about things like someone calling me a bad name in the playground. Or if I got low marks on a test. One memorable waterworks episode was over a book in the school library.
Sometimes I look back and laugh at my younger self. I would never, ever cry about those things now.
And I think, god I am so much stronger than I was back then.
But am I?
Instead, I cry about all of the sh*t I've been through. About the times when I screamed for hours on end because I just needed to stop existing. I cry about all the people I love but will never see again. I cry about the uncertainty I constantly face in my day to day life.
And then I realise, the only reason I don't cry about dumb things like library books, is because I have encountered much worse things to be sad and angry about.
And I think, god I am so damaged.
But at the end of the day, I'm not damaged. How could I be? How could anyone be? The circumstances one finds themselves in never makes them flawed.
In fact, the things that appeared to break me have made me stronger.
So maybe it's both. Maybe the fact I don't cry over trivial things does make me strong. But maybe the fact I am stronger...is because I am damaged.
I cry alot I think.
I can't help it.
When I feel anything too strongly, it leaks out of my eyes.
Too happy? Cry.
Too sad? Cry.
Too angry or frustrated? Cry.
I reached a point in my life, where I actually ran out of tears.
I couldn't cry anymore, they just wouldn't come out.
I would feel the lump in my throat, and scrunch my face up as tight as it would go,
but no tears would fall.
I felt so broken.
I started shoving things down. Deep deep down.
I could feel them building up.
I ignored it.
I was so numb.
I thought my tears would never find me again.
My shell too hard.
My walls too high.
I let nobody in.
Not even myself.
It definitly damaged me.
I don't remember when they came back, but they did.
I think it's when I let someone in.
Momentarily, I gave them the key to my deepest feelings.
I didn't ask for it back.
They started letting themselves in; in to my secret garden.
They helped me clean it up.
Took all the overgrown branches, picked all the weeds.
Slowly but surely, my feelings came back.
My tears came home, and flowers began to bloom.
They didn't make me happy, but they gave me the tools,
and showed me how to use them.
I've let them keep that key, because sometimes I lose mine,
or it gets jammed in the lock.
They gave me a key to their garden too.
It's a beautiful thing.
The damage I did is still there, but I've turned it into something positive.
Something to learn from.
A small shrine, to where I've come from; those moments of despair.
His Name Is Adam
It hurt. Oh, lord, it hurt. Like a white hot knife searing into my abdomen. Impossible to ignore kind of hurt. I focused on the chrome drawer pull on the acetate cart someone had wheeled into my line of sight. Its patina was long gone and there was a small piece of rust on the side. I ignored the round white lights and the nurse counting out the contractions as they waved over me like a steamroller.
One minute, he didn’t exist, and the next minute he was here,crying with the indignity of it. They rushed to take him to meet his parents - so fast that I didn’t get to see his face. His new father was probably pacing in the hall. The new mother was probably wearing pearls and chewing her cuticles. I imagined they would cry, their hearts bursting with love, and reach out to hold him gently, smiling fondly at each other like they do on TV. They planned to send him to the best schools, buy him the best toys, shower him with praise and great advice and all I knew was that my own heart had left the room with him and the soul crushing pain was so visceral that it made the agony of childbirth pale in comparison. Focus on the drawer pull.
When the nurse appeared, she told me I had done great. I looked at her and she smiled sweetly at me, possibly some pity in her eyes or maybe I just imagined it. I tried to answer her but the only sound I could make was a gasp for breath that may have sounded like “No.” She brought me ice water in a plastic yellow cup with a straw and I pushed it away, trying to sit up. “No,” I said, more clearly this time, terrified and yet so sure. “I’ve changed my mind.”
Johnson & The Sandman
Once upon a time sadness made a house of tears fall down and the house couldn’t stand any longer. So, the tears became a river that flowed alongside a trail of hidden meanings and found the sandman. Only the sandman knew there had ever been a house and that the tears were not made merely of water. The one thing he didn’t know was just who had lived in that house and where they had gone.
Of course, it being the man was made of sand, everywhere he walked to, the wind would steal his footprints and carry them in the air. The Sandman was as much a mystery as the residents of the house had been. No one could ever add the countless grains that were produced for creating such a guy. There wasn’t a soul in the world that had ever taken any notice of the fellow.
Yet, it was this sandman who walked every mile of the hidden trail, looking to see the eyes behind the tears that had created such an emotional river. As a sandman, he’d cried a lot of dry tears in his life and figured there had to be a reason for his search.
And then, just when Sandman thought he’d come to the end of the trail, there was a fork in the road. Either way he decided to go with it, he noticed the river was completely empty and the tears were gone.
He made a left turn at the fork, and kept walking with great anticipation. Soon enough, another house appeared and, it was not only a beautiful sight to see, it was filled with a family of people that lived in it. Even better than that, the people seemed happy.
“Would you folks happen to know anything about the river of tears?” Sandman called out, walking towards a woman who was watering the front yard garden and smiling.
“As a matter of fact, I do,” The woman said, “we were all pretty upset there for awhile but, yet, all those tears we cried were worth it. I guess you could say we had to go with the flow and see where life would take us. Somehow, we pulled ourselves up from under the river and decided to build on each other as a family. We don’t cry over the things that made us sad yesterday and I think we’re a little stronger now.”
“Miss, I walked on that trail forever but I only saw the tears. I wonder why that is so.”
“I guess there are just some folks who don’t see the people behind the tears and they have to look a little harder. It’s ok. Perhaps they have their own rivers to deal with.” The woman replied.
“and I suppose you think that when I look at you, all I can see is a sandman, am I not right?” With that, the woman handed the sandman a mirror and asked him to look at himself a little closer. So, the gentleman took the mirror in his hand and he was totally flabbergasted.
All of the sand the man thought he was made of disappeared like the river of tears. There, standing before the then 46-some year old woman he would someday marry, was an angel. The woman said she knew he was an angel right away.
“How did you know I was an angel?”
“Well, my love, you were a loner and you couldn’t see behind yourself but I spotted the wings when you said “Hello.”
The Sandman and Johnson have been married for years now and, to this day, believe that the things they cried over yesterday were worth the tears. It’s what the hidden meaning of the trail had been all along: find strength in yourself by letting go of what made you cry in the past. It’s not really a fairy tale when it all comes true. Life’s sad house of days gone by can turn into a beautiful place to live if we build on each other.