Saturday, May 13, 2006

reaping songs

Today, I read Real Live Preacher’s account of his bursting into tears at his daughter’s mention of Mr. Rogers. He told of how he used not to cry, or at least had a firm grip on the ability to push back the tears. He tells of the single event, his experience of the moment in which a man’s ability to avoid tears is lost forever.
Though I’ve always had to work hard to hang on to that ability, I too, had a moment in which it escaped me never to return. Most men, I suspect, are able for a time, to conceal the fact that we are exceptionally emotional beings by keeping tears on the inside. Problem is, though, that there is an unsuspected type of tears that we are less practiced in pushing back. The idea that boys don’t cry is propagated to show strength, and prove them impervious to pain of the physical and emotional sort. We grow rather accomplished at stuffing pain and responding to it with ever-hardening fortitude and dry-eyed masks that refuse to betray our vulnerable souls. But during all that hardening and hiding, we are also maturing into beings who experience a new emotion beyond happiness and sadness, beyond gladness and pain. We chance upon thankfulness and joy.
Joy. Now there’s an emotion for which tear stuffing hasn’t been practiced. The first time one feels it, he is caught entirely off guard. There are no defenses in place to hide the physical manifestation of this emotion. There is no man-mask to cover the fountain poured forth from joy.
I had experienced joy in workable doses for years. Allison conjured joy in me that leaked forth and which I called “overflows”. When I looked in her eyes and slid a plain gold band on her finger and pledged myself to her, my man-mask failed. When Jack, my first son was born, I held him and welled up with thankfulness and filled up with a love that I’d never known possible while quiet thankful tears ran steadily down my face and provided moisture for his dry, neonatal cries. I was blessed beyond reason.
When Will, my second, was born, it struck me that there was no way I deserved this again. I was convinced that I was given much more grace than I deserved already, but to have a second child? It struck me that I was taking blessing for granted, and that there was no way I could be so blessed. When Will emerged and first saw light of day, I didn’t even need to hold him. These were no quiet tears of gratitude. These were sobbing, gasping, convulsive, uncontrollable, breath-taking, Joy tears. I ran off into the bathroom to cry it out before I even got a chance to hold him. In the bathroom, I couldn’t get straightened up. I leaned on the lavatory and cried until I was dry and then heaved dry sobs until I was sore. The dam had broken and with it, my man-mask, tear-avoider. From that day forward, I became an unbridled joy-feeler, and unapologetic joy-tearer. I still possess in some quantity, the ability to crush the tear of pain, but not those of joy. I would argue even that those tears you’ve seen me cry in the throes of pain, were not from the pain itself, but for the gratitude in the midst of it that it was not worse than it was. For with the ability to feel overwhelming joy, comes the ability to feel it even in the midst of pain. One learns, in all his pain, to give thanks for the surpassing pain from which he is spared.
I don’t think I’ve ever looked upon my son without thinking of that moment in the hospital when he opened for me a new level of emotion. I know, I’ve never looked upon him without feeling that joy.
When I watch him late at night, afraid or anxious or overwhelmed, practicing that man-mask ability to push back those tears, I come to him and hold him and pray over him and beg peace. And I wonder as he peacefully drifts off to sleep, if he feels my own tears of joy washing his worry, planting a salty seed that will some day blossom and gush and open a whole new world to him. A new reason for tears.
The Orthodox call it the gift of tears. I know that the source of the tears is certainly a gift.

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