I envy people who cry.
In middle school, I remember sitting in a circle of eight girls. We were at an age when girls are developing emotional skills at an accelerated pace. One girl was losing her mom to cancer and two of the other girls had lost their mothers already. They were telling their stories of cancer and pain and guilt and loss. It was as emotional as can be. The whole group was sobbing.
It wasn’t that I wasn’t sad. I just couldn’t cry. I looked around the circle and wondered what the heck was wrong with me.
I pretended to cry. I looked down and copied the heaving chests, the running noses. I wiped my face as if to push away tears that didn’t exist. I wanted to honor their stories and boy oh boy did I want to be able to cry.
In the 40 years since, I can remember three or four solid crying sessions. The kind that leave you tired and empty – but empty in a cleaned out sort of way.
I “mist up” like any human, but I’m lucky if a single tear erupts and then the opportunity just evaporates.
I’m checking my privileges. I’ve led a charmed life of health and freedom. But my career has me holding space for people as they process all kids of grief and loss. As I hold space for people to grieve and process – I wish I could dip in and borrow a little bit of the relief a good cry offers.
Once I read a piece of mine to a group of writers. It was an emotional piece about a pony who died that I respected and cherished. I looked up at the end of the piece to the instructor and she said;
“Look around Joell.”
I beheld a room full of crying people of different ages. People I knew and people I’d just met and I’d moved them to feel something deep. As usual, I envied their tears.
I used to cry in my sleep until I realized that I knew I was dreaming of crying. I’d immediately either wake up or dream that my crying was interrupted.
Have I become so jaded, so guarded, so controlling that I won’t give myself permission to feel? This notion is a nasty heavy thought to haul around – I don’t recommend it.
But something happened yesterday.
Becca asked me to help with a new family. She hoped my knowledge and insight could help draw out from the mother some ideas of how to serve the family.
The daughter has a host of diagnosis’ with an overarching label of “failure to thrive.” Those three words alone should make any mother cry – especially mothers of premature babies.
The daughter is four years old. She’s not able to crawl or hold her gaze for long. Her head and eyes loll about as she squirms like an infant. A golf ball sized growth on her forehead distracts you from her velvet blue eyes and her downy soft curly hair.
Becca was on Mowgli – the world’s best back riding horse. He’s an imported gelding deemed “too lazy” to be a dressage horse. He’s a closed book emotionally. He prefers to be alone. He’s trustworthy, obedient and steady but not affectionate or joyful. He shows no preference for particular humans but is extremely clear if he has a dislike for another horse. If you were to ask me what motivates him – I’d say he likes to be peacefully alone.
The mother strapped her daughter into an infant’s pouch across the mother’s chest and approached us. Mowgli never flinched when the daughter’s legs kicked out in excitement. The child stuck out her tongue and leaned towards Mowgli’s head. Her hand reached directly toward his eye. She leaned her forehead on his face and she softly licked his cheek.
Any horseperson knows that the mother and the child were milliseconds away from an injury should Mowgli shake his head to remove a fly. They were in an invasive spot to the horse’s face and could be nudged hard by his nose, nipped by his teeth or bonked by the hard bones of his jaw.
Looking at Mowgli, I saw a softening I’ve never seen from him: A quietness and a kindness that wasn’t patience or fortitude, but a flow of care and sweetness and stillness he’s never shown to another creature in the years we’ve had him.
My chest tightened and tears welled as I looked him in the eye and asked him with my mind “Are you sure you’re ok?”
Mowgli’s look told me to either leave them alone, or kindly rest into the sweetness and allow all of us to feel our way into a communion of innocence and presence. My tears, as usual, evaporated. I allowed the peace, the stillness, and the kindness to wash over me.
Perhaps I’ve learned to cry like a horse.