It is impossible to make a list of all the places I’ve cried, not because I’m a huge crier, but because my childhood, like many, was a bathtub of tears. So what follows instead is a list of (sometimes amusing) moments of beautifully necessary crying, followed by a reflection on what these moments might mean:
1. In a musty high school hallway, in central Michigan, after a solo performance. My singing competition went so horribly that all it took was one innocent question from my friend about how my performance went to unleash an uncontrollable torrent of tears. He was understandably horrified by and unsure of how to respond to my very unexpected and intimate response and quickly fled, leaving me crying alone in front of the drinking fountain.
2. In Istanbul, listening to Nico, riding alone on a subway. This was too good. Watching myself cry in the reflection of the subway windows while listening to “These Days” made this crying session even more emotionally indulgent. Heightening this moment of existential loneliness were the dark stares of several hundred disapproving fellow Turkish subway riders.
3. In the dirty stairwell of a technical college, in the middle of Istanbul, after my Turkish folkloric dancing class. This could be the crown jewel in my crying collection. The fact that I was there to learn a style of dance that I was wholly incapable of performing in a language I didn’t understand made my situation feel even sadder. It was pretty cathartic, but even more so was the puffy-eyed subway ride I took with my friend afterwards to eat a 70-cm long doner.
4. Outside of a fake tourist winery in Cappadocia, land of the fairy chimneys, after watching the reunion of my exchange student friend Han with his Taiwanese family. It was nearing the end of my exchange year, and his reunion with his family was so simple and immediate that I was reminded that something was ending. Love necessarily has to live in many different places.
5. On a bench, overlooking Lake Michigan, in the midst of a trail run. Crying while running is a very dramatic option; the sweat mixes with the tears and by the end of it the dried salty film on your face is some weird testament to both sadness and strength.
6. Outside of Frost, on a fall morning, after a Val breakfast. I had a strangely great high-five with a friend that I passed on the walk, but the moment of elation quickly turned into tears just a few steps later; in a moment of closeness with my friend I started to really miss my little brother.
7. In an empty room in Converse, after my English class, while editing my friend’s essay. (Another one related to family). I edited the first page of Bryan’s essay in a normal fashion, suggesting an occasional em-dash and semi-colon, but by page 3 I felt myself feeling a certain way and by the last sentence tears were silently pouring out. This wholly unexpected turn of a banal editing session belayed the existence of some unresolved family emotions swimming around (and was a testament to Bryan’s great writing).
If I plotted out on a map the geographic location of all of my cries it would look like a sprawling paint splatter, tiny moments when my heart beat out closer to life and left little red stains as evidence of its exertion.
I can still feel pain of these moments now. Trauma transcends temporality—it is a scar from those terrifying moments of feeling a change and fearing not only the future but also an unknown self. One of my favorite passages is from Rilke and is about sadness:
“If only it were possible for us to see farther than our knowledge reaches, and even a little beyond the works of our presentiment, perhaps we would bear our sadnesses with greater trust than we have in our joys. For they are the moments when something new has entered us, something unknown; our feelings grow mute in shy embarrassment, everything in us withdraws, a silence arises, and the new experience, which no one knows, stands in the midst of it all and says nothing.”
What Rilke is getting at in his really beautiful way is that we have to live in relationship with sadness, a resonance within ourselves from which we grow outward, become more. My sadness can’t be paralysis, but something I should use. And not “use” in the manner of wallowing in self-induced angst to feel like I am living a more authentic and real existence. But “use” in the sense of letting the sometimes really shitty activity of feeling spit me out on the other side more awake, more there.
All my memorable crying moments are evidence that I was there, had some weird/sad/funny things and lived to recount them for the enjoyment of all you readers. My cries were evidence of where I lived and what I lived for, beautiful dripping testaments to my existence in the world as an engaged human. So unleash the floodgates—join me, my friends.