As I sat in 1 of 8 La-Z-Boy recliners, I heard light laughter from across the room. Only a moment or 2 later, I felt the inhalation of breath, the sensation of which I am so familiar; the borderline of cry.
Within moments, the woman in the chair was sobbing. I do not know about what, as in our acupuncture sessions we whisper our troubles to our caregiver, and she carefully pokes the needled treatment into our skin. It is a vulnerable position, prone in chairs, pinned down, with possibly up to 7 strangers encircling the room around you.
We all lay still, blanketed and as quiet as possible. I am usually quite alert as I do not relax or rest well, in public or private places. I was already vibrating with the sound of the woman who snores during every session. And then the tears began, directly across from me.
At first, I felt my body further tighten. The sound startled me, and my organs, muscles, skin reacted, rejecting the sound, not wishing to hear or feel it. Without thought, I, of all people, pulled back from the sound of someone else’s sorrow.
I say I, of all people, because I have and will continue to be overcome by veritable tsunamis. I will quietly mist, I will explode into torrential storms. I know this, because after 41 years of life, nothing and no one has been able to undo my sensitivity and shame me into tearlessness. When I am in pain, I cry. I will also cry in great joy, but I am more familiar with the other side.
My gut reaction, my tension arose, but the fear, the wish to get away disappeared. I found myself welling up, and though she could not hear me I quietly said, “I am sorry for your sorrow.” I imagined myself hugging her. I felt our connection.
It reminded me of a few moments where I overcame my awkward desire to disconnect from a situation, because I didn’t know what to do for someone in evident sadness.
I had just finished a job interview and was waiting for the bus. A woman came up to stand at the stop, under the shelter. She was turned a little away from me. She could not contain herself. She was weeping. I stood stiffly for a moment. “What do I do? What can I do?” I had that same instinct to get away from her, to let her cry privately so she wouldn’t feel uncomfortable. But whose discomfort was I really considering?
I decided that I would say something. Short and simple. “Are you o.k.?”
She didn’t speak English very well, but she managed to say that she was alright (quite evidently not the case, but as we have been taught, it doesn’t matter what the truth may be, we must buck up and put on that “brave” front if only in words). She continued to sob.I felt like I had to do more. I didn’t want to disrespect her and invade her space, but something compelled me to put my hand on her shoulder. I could feel her tense up a bit as her shoulder arched,and she pulled away, just a bit. But she didn’t say anything and she didn’t slap my hand away, so we stood there awkwardly, 2 women, 2 humans huddled at a bus stop–strangers connected in her despair. I wanted her to have that space. I wanted her to feel safe, even for a moment, to let go. And I could feel her relax as her breathing calmed.
In this culture, we consider deep feeling problematic. As the author, Miriam Greenspan explains so well, we are emotion phobic. We see sadness as weak at best and pathological at worst. We reject people in pain in a multitude of ways. And in whatever way we have rejected them, we inevitably add to their hurt. How this hurt manifests is as varied as snow flakes.
But I say, to weep openly is an act of bravery.
To refuse to contain the pain is a rebel’s cry in our society.
If we cried more, we’d hurt less.